restore hope: first sunday in advent

this was the sermon i preached last sunday, november 27 — first sunday of advent. the sermon series for advent is restore us, o god. enjoy [and disregard spelling and grammatical errors]

Let us pray: God, be present in this place. Open our hearts and our minds by your presence to hear what you say to us today. Amen. 

I know it is almost Christmas because outside the rink that I teach skating at, Christmas music has begun to play. I see Christmas lights outside, and Christmas trees through windows. The trees have arrived outside the church. We have lit the first advent candle, signifying our journey toward the birth of the Christ child. While the Christmas season asks us to hurry up and get everything done by December 24, the church calendar asks us to wait. We spend four Sundays saying “come, Lord Jesus” in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We are waiting for God to work in our world – not just from far away but IN THE FLESH AND BLOOD. God comes down and brings a new way of living in Jesus, ushering in a way to live, love, and be in community with one another. Advent is a reminder that our world is hurting, and we need something. We wait for Jesus to come during this time to bring restoration.

In our scripture lessons for today, we find people who need restoration. In Psalm 80, the title being a “prayer for Israel’s Restoration,” there are many references to a people who need saving and restoration. The Psalm opens and closes with “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” They are looking for something —  They are looking for a light in the midst of the darkness: They are looking for something called hope. They are lost, consumed, alienated, alone and are in need of hope and assurance. They make it quite clear that without hope for the future, they are doomed. They are crying out, in their own words, “come lord jesus.” And asking for a personal interaction with God. They don’t just want God to provide, but want to have face time with God.

The passage from Isaiah finds us in a time when a community is desperate for something real; something that satisfies. They beg and plead for forgiveness after what they have done. They want to see God’s face, and therefore make right the relationship between them and God. The people are in need of a new start, they put their hope then in God, not in themselves. The entire book of Isaiah speaks a lot about the image and coming of a new ruler who will usher in a new age of justice, righteousness, and peace – this idea would later develop into the concept of a messiah in early Jewish and Christian writings, thus leading to the understanding that Isaiah was prophesying the coming of Jesus – a new ruler, not like the ones the people of that day were familiar with. We hear an aching, a longing, a groaning in the community for something new – not uncommon of lamenting psalms, for God to intervene and appear in the ways of old. This can be seen in the first few verses that talk about the mountains quaking, fire appearing, nations trembling, etc. They are longing for God’s presence, and are almost reminding them to wait. Like we wait for Jesus, the messiah, God incarnate, during this time of advent to come and bring in a new way of life to us.

These people were facing issues not unlike our society is today. We hear of people in our own neighborhoods without food, we hear of the injustices all over the world of people dying from disease, of those being isolated from communities because of who they are. Like the psalmist, we too, ask to see God’s face. I know, often times I feel hurt by the news going on in the world and my prayer is often, “God, where are you in this mess? Show up when innocent people are being killed, and when there is injustice in the world. We need you more than ever.” Show your face in this broken, hurting world. In the midst of our asking, our suffering, our hurt feelings, our sadness, we are saying in our own words, Come, Lord Jesus.

But God shows up. God always seems to show up when we least expect it. So, in our desire to know that we are okay, that God is with us, God shows up. As a baby, in a manger, inviting love and compassion into our everyday life. Jesus doesn’t come with a magic wand, fixing all the problems of the world, but this time of year reminds us that God is active in the lives of humans. God is present, God shows up as a human, in the most vulnerable of ways to get to know and understand even us – each one of us sitting here in the pews, bringing us hope, saying “yes, I’m here. And I love you, my beloved child.” God loved us SO MUCH that he brought hope into the world through a baby in a diaper in a manger. Not a prince in a castle, but in a manger with animals all around. Not exactly the nicest of places, but it brings this message of hope that God can be active in all of our lives, not just in the ones who say they are perfect Christians, but in the ones who are living in the mangers and barns of todays worlds. God reaches way down to all of us, restoring our hope.

This simple prayer, Come, Lord Jesus, according to Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, “is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope. The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves. We are able to trust that God will come again, just as Jesus has come into our past, into our private dilemmas and into our suffering world. Our Christian prast then becomes our Christian prologue, and ‘Come Lord Jesus’ is not a cry of desperation, but an assured shout of cosmic hope.”

Hope is not just wishing for what is to come – but trusting that God is at work in each of our lives. We are hoping, living in anticipation of what God is going to do next. Advent prepares us for that, During this season of advent, God restores our hope in society, our hope in the world, and our hope in what God is doing in the world.

But what does hope look like in a society where there is hurt and pain and suffering? [This story comes from Rob Bell’s book, Sex God] In 1945, a group of British Soldiers liberated a German concentration called Bergen-Belsen. One of them, Lieutenant Colonel Mercin Willet Gonin DSO, wrote in his diary about what they encountered:

“I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere…One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect…”

He describes in detail the situation of this concentration camp, which was stripping people of their humanity, leaving them hopeless. Imagine, being at this camp, waiting to die. Do you suppose there was any sense of what was to come? The situation there was, quite frankly, “hell on earth.” Hell meaning something void of love, peace, hope beauty or meaning. Hell meaning not a part of the will and desire of God.  A place without hope, in need of restoration.

The Lieutenant Colonel goes on to continue his story about something amazing that happens;

“It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrive, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived [note: they did not ask for lipstick]. This was not at all what we wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things, and I don’t know who asked for lipstick [perhaps things like food, water, etc.]. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets, and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the postmortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had dome something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

While Jesus doesn’t exactly show up in a manger with lipstick, this story is one of the restoration of hope. Hope comes to these people in one of the most unexpected ways: through lipstick. Hope comes to us through a babe wrapped in cloth laying in a manger. Though the gift of lipstick, women, stripped of their hope, beauty, love, and future are given a small bit of hope back through the gift of lipstick. May we, also, find hope in the most unexpected of places this advent season, whether that be a babe in a manger, lipstick, or even just a warm friendly smile. May it be so. Amen.

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that was [not] easy

i’m going to let you know what’s been going on in my life by telling you what i’ve learned is not easy over the last month or two.

hence, my list of things that are not easy:

1. death. i’m still trying to figure all that out, because of the death of my friend esquire. it’s still very much a part of my daily life. there is something missing in seminary hall at drew university. i miss you, esquire and know your spirit is here with me.

2. flatware choices. matt and i created our first wedding registries last week! i didn’t realize until then how difficult it is to choose flatware/silverware (my grandma corrected me in that term. no longer will i call it silverware). we did have fun, and are excited about some of our finds.

3. christian ethics. this class might kill me this semester. it is over my head a bit, and i’m kind of confused. i want to love it, but i’m having trouble loving it. maybe i’ll find help, soon.

4. wedding planning. i wish my wedding would plan itself. i just do not have time to dedicate to my wedding, which is going to make it super simple and happy and about the marriage itself. i’m happy, but wow. organizing bridesmaids, fittings, etc. is tough work. i do not envy wedding coordinators.

5. reading all the assignments for seminary. yeah, that will never happen. especially being a full-time student with 2 jobs and a 5 hour/week internship.

6. change. we’re about 3 months into a pastoral change at the church i work at. change, for anyone, is not something that is easy. we are all learning, and i think it will bring great things to the church.

7. waiting. matt and i are so ready to get married. do we really have to wait until may?

i think that’s all for now. i’m sure there are more things, but i can’t think of all of them. i’m learning, and growing in this stage at seminary and learning  a lot about myself.

 

 

the one where we build

sorry i’ve been MIA — i just got back from a week long mission trip with the youth from my church! we were up in corning, ny with a program called RISE — we tore down a handicap ramp and build some stairs. it was a great week, full of laughs. i will spend some time this week recapping, but for now, i leave you with a few photos of our trip.

tearing down the ramp

carrying the ramp out

pj dressed up.

ramp demolition: complete!

adorable dog named kiwi

stairs!

group hug to celebrate!

in the spirit of holy conferencing

warning: this is a highly methodist post.

this last week (well, from tuesday-saturday), i attended the greater nj annual conference of the united methodist church. we spent a lot of time in “holy conferencing,” voting on various resolutions, and delegates to the general and jurisdictional conferences in 2012.

while it is mostly business, and making important decisions, it is amazing to see the holy spirit at work when she decides to move. well, let me tell you — she moved. in ways that i couldn’t believe (the bishop couldn’t either…he was flabbergasted.) the GNJAC pledged to collect money for the United Methodist Aviation Ministries , in a special offering called “wings of the morning” which was originally set up for churches to take their spare change and roll it up and bring whatever money they collect. when the offering was taken, we all made paper airplanes, threw them around, and sang “i’ll fly away.” it was incredible.

this flight ministry provides means for critically ill persons in isolated areas in the democratic republic of the congo to reach medical facilities. the bishop challenged the churches to collect $100,000 to help go towards wings of an additional plane, which is more cost effective than the small one we have.

after the initial offering, there was only 80,000 collected. (i say only in preparation to tell you what happened).

well, some people were shocked. one man in particular asked for a moment of privilege as he said “$20,000 is nothing. i challenge you, to collect more.” well, as in the words of conference preacher mike slaughter, “money follows missions, not church budgets.”

people began getting up, saying that their congregation would donate $1,000.

others pledged $100 from their personal wallets. youth donated together to raise $500. people were going to have dinners. churches donated more money. hundreds upon hundreds of people got up, pledging money. my youth group will donate a percentage of the proceeds of our current fundraiser. people got up, by the rush of the holy spirit, saying “my church treasurer isn’t answering, but i am pledging $X.” it didn’t matter to them that the church might not want to.

we ended up pledging $195,000 TOTAL. and that doesn’t include people who will just humbly send a check.

the rest of conference was amazing (especially the ordination service), but the holy spirit sure did move. also, i’m not sure i’ve ever seen a bishop get so excited and say “praise god” so many times.

however, we should all praise god for the work of the missional church.

amen.

the one where i discover ministry happens in the side conversations

in my days of working at summer camp, i learned an important lesson: ministry happens in the side conversations. 

i’ve never been a firm believer in traditional evangelism techniques (read: alter calls), especially with youth and young adults. in fact, they make me quite nervous and uncomfortable.  i tend to see them as emotional, “mountaintop” experiences that happen every once in a while but aren’t life changing. i believe that the best opportunities for ministry come when you are least expecting it.

take this past sunday for example. it was our end of the year celebration for our youth group, and we were eating pizza and getting ready to play a game. when suddenly someone brings up how the end of the world/rapture didn’t happen on may 21. out of the blue, a young girl brings this up in the midst of a conversation about american idol and middle names.

ministry happens in the side conversations. 

we continued on to talk about it, hearing about how the middle school sunday school class discussed it that morning. they told me how their friends and kids at their school were freaking out, and how many of their friends are not christians.

i proceeded to let them talk, not interjecting. listening carefully to their curious minds trying to understand what all of this meant. i then, in a moment of quiet began to explain how there are different views of the end times (sidenote: i had to explain what the rapture was…that was a funny conversation…”beam me up, scotty” was used in that one…) and how some people believe that christians will disappear, and others believe that jesus’ vision of the kin-dom will be restored here on earth. they quite liked that idea of how justice, compassion, love, mercy, kindness, and all good things will rule over evil.

we laughed about the idea of being beamed up. and then how some of them thought if the rapture happened, we’d all be naked because material possessions won’t be there. and then? we continued eating our pizza, drinking arnold palmer (drink of choice for my youth group) and playing the ninja game and the zoo game. i can only hope that in those few moments, they were enlightened and learned something about false prophesy, and god’s kin-dom come.

ministry happens in the side conversations and in the unplanned moments. i’m sure of it.