Draw Near to Justice

Image Credit: Daily Theology dailytheology.org

December 16, 2018 Advent 3

Luke 3:7-18

This is the time of year that many people live for. The festivities and parties. The lights and the pageantry. The giving and the receiving.  While we may be in the season of Advent in the church, many others are in the season of indulgence. Spending beyond their means so that they can attempt to bring joy to a friend or family member.

It is in light of this that we continue to wait in Advent. We wait to rejoice in the birth of a baby that is going to change the world. We wait for the light that is to be born into the world that calls out the darkness. We wait with bated breath for the hope promised to us by our ancestors.

With this,we find ourselves in the third week of Advent. How wonderful it is to be greeted by the insults of John the Baptist, “You brood of vipers!” Wow, he know show to wake us up from our complacency. He continues to call us out of our comfort zone and into the reality of this world. He attempts to pull our attention away from the office Christmas parties and the twinkling lights. Through John the Baptist we are called to live alongside our neighbors and draw near to the justice found in Jesus.

John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness. He causes us to sit up straight and pay attention because the message he must share is so much different then others we have been hearing. He speaks with a voice of resistance. A voice that is not afraid to proclaim the message he has been given to share. This resistance will eventually get him killed.

While John resists those in authority, our society tends to resist the gospel message in parts.I will be bold to say that many live lives of apathy. It is much easier to just sit back and worry about yourself then it is to step outside of your comfort zone and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the stranger. We may know we need to repent of this apathy, yet it is so much easier to sit down and relax.

The people that are listening to John are thirsty for instruction. They want to know what they should do. This has not changed much over time. The early Israelites were also asking for a king and someone to guide them and tell them what to do. It continues in the Israel of John’s time as they want to know what they should do when he calls them out of their complacency and desire to stay where they are at.

It is easy to look in the past and think that it was better then and want the same thing today. However, as John cries out in the wilderness, it is a reminder for us that we too are called out of our complacency and our drawn near to the incarnate God. The Son of God was born human so that we could connect in relationship and get a glimpse of the great mystery.

John’s message comes as a sign of grace for us in a world that is broken and needs the love God has promised to all of creation. A love that John points to in his proclamation.A love that is born into the world so that all will come to know God and be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Bearing good fruit is part of the message that John shares. We all want to bear good fruit. When those that chose to follow John the Baptist ask, “What then should we do?” he pulls his answer from the law that came before him. You must share a coat if you have two! You must not over-tax people and only take what has been prescribed!You must not extort through threats or false accusations! We too, should be following these instructions of John the Baptist.

However, our redemption does not hinge on these actions. The promise of Jesus following John the Baptist to baptize in the Holy Spirit connects us with something much greater. It is here that we encounter the grace of God that washes over us regardless of our actions. God’s love for us was made clear in the death of Jesus and we are given hope through the resurrection.

We are drawn near to justice this advent season because of Jesus. Through the grace that we receive in baptism and being fed at the table, we should desire to bear good fruit, not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we desire to encounter God in our neighbors and the stranger. The awesome thing is that Trinity does a fantastic job of this through our various ministries, including MCREST and the bags we recently filled for the Detroit Rescue Mission. By doing so, we speak boldly to the voices of injustice and proclaim more boldly with love. May you continue to be bold in your proclamation of love this holiday season.

Let us pray. God of justice, you raise up the sinner and fulfill the promise of resurrection. May we continue to be embraced in your love this season and respond in acting in justice for all of creation. Amen.

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Draw Near to Truth

December 9, 2018

Luke 3:1-6

My previous career as a sales rep introduced me to a lot of people. Each of these people had their own personalities that ranged from mellow to off the wall. A man atone of the accounts that I called on would share stories that were so off the wall, you would think that he was making them up just to see if you would fall for it. I would start to question whether or not he was telling me was the truth. Of course, wanting the sale, I would just nod along with him in agreement.

I am sure that you have all encountered someone like this. Someone that bends the truth so much that there is no resemblance to the facts. I imagine that John the Baptist had many people questioning him. If you remember Matthew and Mark’s description of John the Baptist, they described him looking more like someone you would associate as homeless. He wore a coat of camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. He also was most likely not the first one trying to foretell the coming of the Lord. Now, his image in this drawing may make you pause. He may not be the first person you would walk up to if you had a question.

However, he knew what he was saying was true. He drew many people near him in his proclamation.And in his bold proclamation, he points to the truth that is revealed in our true Lord, Jesus Christ. In John preparing the way, we are drawn near to that truth.

Not everyone was amused with John. Can you imagine the push back he received from some when he proclaimed that he was preparing the way for the Lord who was to come after him? I am sure that he was mocked and ridiculed. I am sure that some people turned their backs on him because what he was saying they did not want to hear.They already had their way set in front of them and there was no way that they were going to follow him down the detour that he was instructing they take. There was no way this man that looked like he was probably better left out by himself was going to call people to follow him and surely, he was not talking about the long-awaited messiah.

John the Baptist was calling people out of their comfort zones. He was naming their fears and telling them to face them straight on. While we know he did have some followers, I am sure that he made just as many, if not more, very uneasy.

When someone comes to us and tells us something that we do not agree with, quite often we put up some type of boundary and block them out. We pretend that we do not hear them because we “know” our way is the only way. Please don’t re-route us,because the path we are on is the one with least resistance. We don’t want to be challenged to go over the higher mountains and through the deepest valleys. We would much rather take the easy road, not the road least traveled.

That is the problem. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to go against the grain.However, this is where Jesus found himself through his entire earthly journey. Today,it seems that Jesus is the road less traveled. If we were to truly follow Jesus words today, we would truly be living counter to our current society.

In the midst of what was happening in 1st Century Israel, John the Baptist had no reservations of calling out to those that were willing to listen. He did not care about the Roman authorities that ruled or the temple leaders that at times seemed distant from God. His voice spoke boldly and proclaimed the great things that were about to happen. He cried out in the wilderness to ensure that everyone heard the wonderful news he was about to share. The beginning of the good news of Jesus.

We too are called to listen! There is a voice crying out in the wilderness still today. It is a voice that calls all of us into God’s loving embrace. An embrace that meets us where we are at. The voice that cries out is present when we take time to sit with God in prayer. It is also present in and among our daily actions as we live out our lives. Have you heard the voice that calls you into love? Have you heard the voice that calls you to reach out and help your neighbor? Have you heard the voice that breaks through the barriers to share the gospel?

In Jesus,the crooked roads that we find ourselves on are going to be made straight and the rough roads are going to be paved over. In Jesus, our old ways are washed clean and we are refreshed and given a new road map. We are called to a new way of living. We are called to a new way of being.

The awesome thing is that when this happens, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” With every step we take this Advent season, we are being drawn near to the truth that is Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Jesus, you are the way, the truth, and the life. May we find our way in you and be less distracted by those things on our peripheries. And may you guide us in preparing the way for others. Amen.

Are you the one?

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Matthew 11:2-11

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.

It does not take long for our circumstances to change. One minute we can feel as though we are at the top of the world. Being part of some amazing things that we think are going to make difference in our community or even globally. The next minute we are caught off guard and are in a place that is unfamiliar and stirs within us questions that we did not even know exists.

That question for John the Baptist is, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Let’s hear that one more time, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Perhaps, we are left asking this same question ourselves at times, if not variations of it. Questioning who Christ and God are and our role in this great mystery.

What is it within John that stirs this question? Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, our lesson from last week, John is confident in his preparation for the one that is to come after him. The one that will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Jesus walks onto the scene at this time, and through his baptism, he knows that he is the one. However, for some reason, John seems to be second guessing himself. His expectations of the Messiah, are not yet being fulfilled.

While Jesus should be bringing about the Kingdom of God, why is John anxiously waiting in his prison cell? Everything should be made right with the coming of Jesus into the world and yet brokenness seems to persist. It is ancient Jewish thought that when the Messiah comes everything is going to be made right. Right at that moment. Not later, but now. However, we have been told to wait. Advent is a season of waiting. And preparing. In our culture when we want instant gratification, perhaps this is when we find ourselves asking the same question that John boldly has brought to Jesus. We want to be able to understand in the midst of the brokenness and hurting, and yet we are left with more questions.

These questions become even harder for us during the holidays. The holidays are a time when many people are celebrating and having a joyous time with friends and families. There are parties everywhere during this season. The annual office party brings co-workers together for a time to relax and not think about the daily tasks of careers. Families gather to share presents and be with one another. The streets are decorated with lights and tinseled ornaments. Houses around town gleam with lights stating that there is something different about this time of year.

And yet, some are shut behind closed doors, drawn curtains and blinds blocking out the very joy that others exude this season. For some, the holidays bring more dread than joy. For them, they can find it easier to relate with John in the cell, then those rejoicing and celebrating. In recent years, some churches are even having “Blue Christmas” services. These services get their name from the feeling some are left with during this time of year and usually occur on December 21, the day of the year with the least amount of daylight.

In John’s question, he is looking for an answer and reassurance that what he proclaimed was not for naught. Did he truly fulfill the calling that God had laid upon his heart? Did he prepare the way? Is God with him, in his blues?

In our own doubts and blues, don’t we sometimes ask ourselves the same things? Did I make the right decision? Did I share the love of God as it was shared with me? While we may not be in prison as John is, we still hold ourselves captive and in bondage to our sins. We feel tied-up and helpless when it comes to death and disease.

It is in Jesus’ words that we are directed to the grace of God that is all around us. He tells John’s disciples to go back and tell John what they hear and see. The blind see! The lame walk! The lepers are cleansed! The deaf hear! The dead are raised! The poor receive good news!

What do you hear and see as you are walking about this creation that God has given to you? Where do you see Jesus at work in the lives of all people?

I have seen Jesus abundantly at work in the midst of our community these past few months!  While we may not have made the blind see or the lame walk, we have still played a role in the kingdom of God. We have given the homeless a roof over their heads and soup to warm their tired, achy bodies. We have fed the hungry and starving, not just in the greater Blue Water Area, also around the world. We have made it possible for children in Detroit to have a great Christmas by filling these bags. This coming Saturday Trinity will host Second Hand Christmas, and parents will be able to get gifts for their children that they would not have been able to get before. This is what I have heard and seen just in the past few months!

What have you heard? What have you seen? There are signs all around us that God is with us, Emmanuel.

It is in these signs, the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus is brought into our midst to share with those we serve. In this we know that Jesus has come, and will come again!

 

 

 

A Call from the Wilderness!

zurich_wilderness_park-1

Matthew 3:1-12

May the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, and the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord come to us in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is usually around this time of year when the weather starts turning cold that I find my mind fixating on the summer months. This is the time of year that my family enjoys going camping and we find ourselves in the wilderness. To be separated from our familiar surroundings of home bring about a peace that is hard to leave at the end of the week. I think of the wilderness as a place of renewal and an opportunity to get even closer to God. Amazing revelations can occur in the wilderness!

John the Baptist comes to us this morning in the wilderness. A place that the people of Israel are quite familiar with. Their ancestors were wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The wilderness can be untamed and wild. It can be foreign. In the wilderness, some are left feeling scared and perhaps have a heightened sense of anxiety. In the wilderness, we do not always know what is going to happen. John the Baptist comes to us in the wilderness disrupting our daily lives as he proclaims a gospel that is counter-cultural. It is in this disruption that we are called to repent! It is in John’s wilderness that we are awakened and promised a sign of hope!

The season of Advent breaks into our everyday lives with the reminder that Christ is coming and now we have a prophet speaking from the wilderness pointing to Christ. We could not have asked for a better time for this inbreaking. We are stirred to our senses in this season and reminded that through the prophet John the Baptist we live through judgement into hope! It is John the Baptist that calls us to repent and thus we feel a sense of judgement. It is in his calling the Pharisees and Sadducees nothing but sneaky slimy snakes that it echoes down to our generations as well. John the Baptist is speaking to the brokenness in our lives and the world, knowing that at times we can be far from Christ. If only we were to concentrate on bearing fruit worthy of repentance, then we would find and truly experience the Christ that comes to live within us.

Last week on the first Sunday of Advent we were asked, “Are you Ready?” Are you ready for the coming of Christ that John the Baptist points to? John the Baptist calls us to preparation this second Sunday of Advent as we are told to repent. As the kingdom of God comes near, we are to be prepared. In our repentance, we turn around and start anew. In our repentance, we act out of awe and reverence to a loving God, instead of being afraid.

As we come upon the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the reformation, Martin Luther even had a thing or two to say about repentance. It is the beginning of the 95 Theses, which lays the groundwork for the Reformation. Thesis 1 reads, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be of one repentance.” In other words, when we are called to repent, it is not a one and done thing.

St. Francis starts his life anew seeking his own repentance. Where the sight of lepers had previously made him nauseous, he sought repentance and asked for forgiveness as he began caring for those very lepers. He brought to them the love of God.

St. Francis and Martin Luther both realized it was ongoing, and we are called to live a life of repentance in which we are constantly turning ourselves towards God. As we turn around, we are caught in the awe that God enters into our lives.

As we turn around, we find Christ in the most glorious of places, bringing us a reminder of the life that he gave for us so that we can experience the true grace of God.

We turn around to find life anew in the waters of baptism. We are washed cleaned and receive the promise of a new life in Christ.

We turn around and find Christ in the bread and wine of communion, which restores and renews us as we continue to be God’s hands and feet in the world.

As we turn around in the wilderness, God is with us, Emmanuel. The wilderness awakens our senses to a new and glorious thing that is about to take place. A call is placed upon our hearts to be prepared and ready for the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. And in this we experience good news.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.