Draw Near to Wonder

December 2, 2018 Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36

I grew up in the city. Fortunately, the city of Charlotte is not real big, and I lived just on the edge. Therefore, you could go in the back yard and not worry about the light pollution. This meant that whenever there was a meteor shower or comet,we could usually see the event unless it was cloudy. I would lay out in the yard and look up to the stars and wonder in amazement at how it was all created and wonder what existed beyond the earth.

Advent is a time of wonder. The promise of God is going to be fulfilled in Jesus and we anticipate being able to celebrate that very coming on Christmas. In our gospel lesson, Jesus encourages us to raise our heads to look beyond our pains and adversity, so that we can live in the hope and anticipation of his coming into the world.

The problem that we can run into is that we are so distracted with our lists and things that need to be done before Christmas arrives that we forget to wonder! Some of us may have even forgot what it meant to wonder many years ago. We get caught up in work and chores and running kids here and there that we lose the sense of wonder that comes into this world as a newborn baby.

This lesson from Luke seems to be a strange selection as we open up the Advent season. We are anticipating a newborn, and Jesus foretells of the time to come after he dies. The time Jesus speaks of does not sound like one we would get in line to participate in. Who wants to live among the fear and distress of the world? Yet,the gospel also reminds us to be ready at all times. No matter, what it is we are anticipating. Jesus tells those listening to, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly” (vs 34). He was making sure that they were awakened from their own stupor. I am sure there were many that were walking around with their heads down and not paying attention to the things that were happening around them. They too, were distracted.

We are guilty of the very things that Jesus names. We worry about the day to day issues that affect our lives. We all become drunk in our own ways. That drunkenness could come in many forms. Being so caught up in one thing that we forget to do the things that truly matter. We let time slip away and with that we could spend more time with the people that we should be loving and caring for. We become drunk on those things that distract us from being in relationship with God and in turn fall short of living out that relationship with others.

In response to any distress that we may encounter, Jesus tells us that he will be present to bring us that sign of hope we are looking for. That sign that first came into the world with his birth. He calls us to raise our heads and look up to the signs and know that our redemption is drawing. It is a redemption that is found in Christ. We are redeemed through the grace of God through the blood and life shed on the cross.

While Jesus speaks of signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, we are also reminded of his presence. A presence that will never leave us. Even when the earth and the heavens pass away, his words will never pass away. His words of hope and redemption that comes to all of humanity are the ones that we look towards in wonder. A wonder that guides us and carries us through difficult times. While it seems that we will always have bad things happening around us, Jesus comes with the reminder to raise our heads and be courageous to face those adversities knowing that we are redeemed through his saving grace.

We are called into his presence to wonder. The wonder draws our heads up from the distractions and brings us closer to a loving God that chose to be born in this world so that we would know God’s love. To wonder, draws us near to the mystery of God. How are you going to wonder this Advent season?

Let us pray. God of Wonder, be our guiding star in these days of Advent as the day light gets shortened as well as our patience as we wrestle the lines at the stores. We rejoice as we begin to draw near to you in this time of waiting. Amen.

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Being Opened

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September 9, 2018

Mark 7:24-37

Sometimes you just need a good smack upside the head! I don’t think there is an age limit when this option ends.

For me, one such time was while I was on internship as I was preparing to become a pastor. Every spring before my seminary sent out students to begin internship later that summer they would gather the students together and give them a handbook of requirements. This handbook placed in my hands was a very dangerous thing. I now knew what I had to do and when I had to have it done and surely it would help me coast through my year of internship.

About halfway through the year I had a visit from Pastor Jane, the Contextual Education Director at Trinity. We talked about how internship was going with my internship supervisor and what the focus of the rest of my time there should look like. This is when I received a smack upside the head. As I talked about my checklists and getting the requirements done, Jane asked me, “How are you learning to be a pastor?”

Hmm…what a great question. I had learned how to do, but I had just barely scraped the surface of what it meant to be. It was in that little question that I was opened up to a whole new experience.

This morning in our gospel lesson, we have two stories that are stacked upon each other. They are more connected than one may think at first glance. First, they are both stories of healing. Second, the people that are asking for the healing are not the ones that need the healing. The Syrophoenician woman asks for her daughter and the deaf man’s friends ask Jesus that he be healed. They are both outsiders. The Syrophoenician woman is a Gentile and we can’t say if the deaf man was, but he definitely was on the outside looking in as someone with a disability. In a culture that relies on oral tradition and few people being literate, not being able to hear or speak puts you at a major disadvantage.

What is Jesus supposed to do with these two that come to him seeking restoration and healing? The conversation that occurs between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is one that does not seem to highlight Jesus’ people skills very well. He is combative and the love that we have got to know Jesus through seems to be lacking. You could say that he even comes off as a jerk. We are left wondering what must be going on in his mind. Maybe he is tired and just needs to take a sabbath. Maybe he needs to get away and pray.

It is easy to get stuck in a rut and keep on doing what has always been done. When we do this, it is not uncommon to react negatively when we are challenged. When things do not go the way that we expect them.

To live in our own insular lives blocks others out that are different from us. The outsiders that we hear of in the gospels. The outsiders that usually get welcomed to have a seat at the table with Jesus to break bread and join in conversation. When we do this, we also close ourselves off to the possibilities that lay before us in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God that is unfolding before our very eyes. When we fail to welcome the outsider as Jesus does, we close ourselves off from the Spirit acting and moving in our lives to show us new ways to encounter Christ.

We first hear the promise in our reading from Isaiah this morning.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy (31:6).

There is one word that Jesus speaks this week that changes everything!

It is in Jesus’ natural tongue and it is, “Ephphatha!” Fortunately, for those of us that do not know Aramaic, it is translated for us within the text, “Be opened!” It is in this word that Jesus heals the deaf man so that he can hear once again and speak so that people can understand him. The man that was deaf and could not speak was now opened to the world around him. His ears were opened to hear the sounds all around him and his vocal cords were made alive so that he was able to fully communicate with friends and family.

When Jesus speaks “Ephphatha” to the deaf man, it is also reflective of the previous scene when he is approached by the Syrophoenician woman. In this encounter, it is Jesus that is opened up! His way of thinking and the way that he views the woman. While his words first come across as hard to hear, even hard to imagine they are coming from Jesus, the woman provides him with the smack upside the head that he seems to need at that moment. She opens him up to even healing Gentiles, and expanding his ministry to all of God’s creation, beyond the people of Israel. It is in her words that Jesus ears are opened and his compassion for others is expanded.

The call of Jesus for the deaf man’s ears to be opened is a call that speaks to us today. As we close ourselves off from others and stick to the things that need to be done, how are we being opened to encounter Christ and the Spirit that leads us?

That smack upside the head that I received in seminary was enough for me to be opened to more and to learn how to be. Of course, I do slip back into the doing probably more often than I would like, but the Spirit is powerful and pulls me back into being.

How have your eyes, ears, hearts, and hands been opened to the Spirit working in your life? How are we as a community opened up to serving one another and being available in times of need? I believe we have listened to God calling us to be open through many efforts as a community, including the Food Pantry at St. Augustine’s, the Good Samaritan Fund, and the Backpack Blessings program. We have also worked together for Kids Against Hunger that provides food not just locally, but throughout the world.

It is in these many ministries that we are open to the Spirit. Our denominations are called to be open as well, which is reflective in some of our taglines. The ELCA is called to serve with open hands as we realize it is God’s Work. Our Hands. The UCC encourages us to be open to hearing the Spirit guide us as we are reminded that God is Still Speaking. And the United Methodist Church could not be clearer as their tagline is Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.

To witness God working in the Richmond Community is wonderful and when we are able to come together to worship and serve, the love of Christ is multiplied, and we are able to expand our voices and welcome people in to be open to a movement of the Spirit that changes lives. Together, we come to the cross and give our thanks to God for the love that was poured out for us and all of humanity through Jesus and the saving grace that we find in the waters of baptism and the meal that is served at the Lord’s table.

Let us pray. God of Community, you have knitted us together as sisters and brothers in Christ. May we walk with one another as you open up our ears, eyes, hearts, and hands to serve our neighbors and learn to love the stranger. Amen.