Longing in the Wilderness

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December 10, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

At some point in all of our lives, there is a longing that resides within us and it can be hard to name. We know that something is calling us to greater things, but we are not sure what it may be. The longing can take on the form of nostalgia as we look towards the past and wish that we were back in a time where things seemed much simpler. Those days when we were children and we did not have too much to personally worry about. We long for that time where we may have felt more secure. That same longing can also bring a sense of pain as old memories are restored and we are confronted with those things that we would rather not approach.

The institutional church is great at longing. Longing for days past. Longing for days when there were a 100 children in Sunday School and the sanctuary was full every Sunday. Yet, when we long for the things that were, we tend to forget God in the present and the trajectory that the Spirit is guiding us.

There is a longing that we can point to this morning within our lessons. First, in Isaiah, the people of Israel are nearing the end of their Babylonian Exile and there is a longing for what they had many years ago. They longed to be back in Israel and the familiar, even though a couple of generations had passed. They knew it was their home and they longed to return to the land of their ancestors.

This is picked up in our gospel lesson from Mark this morning. “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.’ ” There is a longing among the Jewish people that takes place across time. A longing to be in touch with God. A longing to repent of their past grievances and to be found righteous in the eyes of God that had seen them out of exile.

In the longing, they find themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness can be a scary place if you are not familiar with it. You don’t know what is around each bend and each turn could lead to the unexpected. The wilderness does not tell them when it will end. The wilderness can make them forget who they were, or it can help them look toward the future.

Everyone of us could point to some time in our lives when we found ourselves in the wilderness. A time where we felt lost and did know where to turn. A time that all hope seemed to be lost. Perhaps, some of you may even being finding yourselves in that wilderness now. Amid the decorations that we have up in preparation for the Christmas Season, celebrating Christmas may be the farthest thing from your mind.

We may find ourselves longing for days when we felt more comfortable. We even celebrate the days gone past. Richmond has the Good Old Days Festival. My hometown, has a Frontier Days Festival. Now, I am not saying that we should not remember those that have gone before us and helped lay the foundation for our families. These festivals are great for building community and being in relationship with one another. Our Jewish ancestors had several festivals that they celebrated and still celebrate to this day. As we look towards the past, let’s not forget that God is working towards the future.

Those days that we felt comfortable, may have been uncomfortable for others. This is not the kingdom of God that Jesus preaches. The entire world will continue to find itself in the wilderness until we can come together and be reconciled with one another.

In the wilderness the Israelites find hope. While they may have been in the wilderness for decades, Isaiah tells them that their waiting is over and they are being called back to the homeland. It is John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness that proclaims he is clearing the way for someone even greater than him. While John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, it is merely with water that he baptizes. It is in the hope of the coming of Jesus Christ that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist prepares the way to lead people out of the wilderness. It is in Jesus Christ that those that have followed John will find the true God. The God that forgives all sins and breathes the Holy Spirit upon people, calling them to continue proclaiming the good news. That is the first verse of Mark, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark wants to let his readers know what they are going to be reading. This is the good news that comes to the people of Israel as foretold in the Hebrew scriptures, This is the good news that they have been waiting for. This is the good news that was with creation at the very beginning.

In the midst of our own wilderness, many of us are still searching. Searching for something that may be lost. Searching for meaning in our lives. Searching for what it is God is calling us to. Perhaps, you have given up searching. It is hard work, that is true. As we find ourselves in the wilderness, Jesus never said it was going to be easy.

The people that began following John the Baptist were searching for something. They were longing for something greater. People today are searching as well. Longing for deeper relationships and yearning to find meaning in a life that sometimes feels overburdened by the negativity of our world. It is in the voice crying out in the wilderness that we find our hope. We first hear of Jesus Christ, in the gospel of Mark, from John the Baptist. He is simply preparing the way.

The way has been prepared for us. Jesus has come into the world and fulfilled the prophecy of the prophets. In Jesus Christ, we find the grace of God in flesh for all people. The grace of God that welcomes in saints and sinners alike. The grace of God that calls us out of our longing and searching. The grace of God that loves beyond compare.

As you find yourself in your own wilderness, look for those that have prepared they way, and listen to the voice of God calling you and naming you as a beloved child. For as Mark writes, “this is the beginning of the good news.” Do you understand that? It is just the beginning. We find ourselves in a wonderful story that has not come to completion yet. In this story we find hope and grace.

Let us pray. . . .God that fulfills our longing, we come to you in the middle of our own wildernesses. Reveal to us the calling you have placed on our lives as we desire to follow your Son, Jesus Christ. We give thanks for those that have prepared the way and we ask for strength and perseverance as we wait for your kingdom to fully be upon us. Amen.

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Claiming Faithfulness

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Mark 13:24-37

As children, we usually first learn of faithfulness as we enter into relationship with our parents. We begin to learn that they are someone to trust and rely on. When we have needs, we know that it is them that we can seek when we do not know where to turn. This continues through school age and into their teen years, even when we think we know more than our parents. Unfortunately for some, parents are not always present and thus the image as God as a loving parent does not resonate. There is then a struggle to justify what it means to be in relationship with God and the thought of faithfulness flies out the window.

This Sunday we begin a new Church year, and like all first Sunday’s of Advent, we have an apocalyptic image presented and the second coming of Jesus. We haven’t even celebrated the birth of Jesus this church year yet, and we are already speaking of his return. Jesus’ apocalyptic preaching begins at the beginning of chapter 13 (vs. 1-8). Here we have the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, which when Mark’s gospel was written, had already happened.

Perhaps you feel a little rushed in hearing the gospel lesson this morning. Why are we talking about the second coming in the midst of our waiting during Advent? Don’t worry, there is an uneasiness in the midst of the disciples as well. They are not yet prepared for Jesus to leave them, even though that is what he has been preparing them for during the last three years. Again, we have the warning from Jesus to “keep awake.”

If you recall, we heard these words just a few weeks ago in the parable of the ten bridesmaids as they were waiting for the bridegroom and half of them were not fully prepared. This could possibly be something that we should pay attention to. There may be something behind this theme of keeping awake. In the midst of keeping awake, one may wonder how faithfulness fits into our practice.

It is in Jesus’ prophetic voice that he is encouraging them to stay faithful to the ministry that they have been doing. In the midst of his death, to not lose hope. And yet, what did they do? On that Good Friday, they went to the upper room and sulked around and did not know what to do. They were living in fear.

We have the habit of doing the same thing when things do not go the way we expect them to. We go and sulk and we begin to lose any faith that we had. We begin to question everything and we are left wondering where to turn next. Just like the disciples.

We too, like to rush. How long ago did we begin to see Christmas decorations up in the stores. Usually, they start appearing before Halloween is even over. We want to look right past the time of Advent and get right to the presents and joyous family gatherings. We fail to take time to listen to God in our waiting and watching for the Christ child, yet alone the return of Christ.

That is the way we have been taught to function in our society. We saw it just a few days ago with our Congress. They rush a tax bill through a vote without allowing proper time for full disclosures and the opportunities to examine how it will affect the majority of Americans. We have found it hard to delay gratification. We know what we want, and we want it now!

We fail to let God work in God’s time and because of this, that faithfulness that God calls us to as God’s children becomes tarnished.

Fortunately, faithfulness is not a one way street!

Paul reminds the people of Corinth that “God is faithful.” God calls all into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. That fellowship is not exclusive. All are invited to be a part of it. Despite the prophetic warning that Jesus gives the disciples, God is present.

God is present in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple, just as God was present in the beginning. God is faithful through the Word, that is Jesus Christ. The Word that is promised to come again. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus tells them, “but [his} words will not pass away.” While the disciples have no clue exactly what Jesus means in these words, they will come to understand. It is in their staying awake that they will encounter Christ and be open to the calling of the Holy Spirit. A calling that will lead them on their own paths proclaiming the Good News of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While we are called to keep awake, there are times that we fall asleep at the wheel. We forget where we are going and we get distracted by the bright twinkly Christmas lights.  The chaos in our world makes us point to the apocalypse, give up all hope, or truly dig deep and encounter the faithfulness that God has for us. Created in God’s image, we can find hope, knowing that God’s presence is always with us and God’s faithfulness will never vanish.

Our faithfulness, on the other hand, is not as consistent. Because of this, we have the reminder of Jesus Christ breaking into this world to walk among us and encounter the same pain and suffering that we do throughout our lives. In this time of Advent, we wait and watch. We keep awake for the sign of hope found in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we find life and are called to live it abundantly.

Rowan Williams, in Being Christian, writes, “The new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God. And that means that if we ask the question, “Where might you expect to find the baptized?” one answer is, “In the neighborhood of chaos.” It means you expect to find Christian people near to those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured, and needy.”

This is the faithfulness of God that shines through the darkness for all people, but especially for the lost and forgotten. The hungry and the poor. Those that society has cast away. Through our actions as people of God, we can share that same faithfulness with those that we serve. Those that we help when we support mission trips, welcome the homeless during MCREST, collect food for the backpack ministry and the food pantry, prepare gift bags for the children of Macomb County, and much much more.

As we begin our Advent Season, let us claim our faithfulness and keep awake, not only for the coming of the Christ Child, but for the return of Christ to this world to make all things right.

Let us pray…Expectant God, we struggle and are challenged when it comes to keeping awake. May your faithfulness in us, guide us to claim our faithfulness in you. May we be embraced by your love this season of Advent as we wait and watch. Not just this time of year, but until the kingdom of heaven has finally come into view. Amen.