From Where Does Our Help Come?

1st Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 117-19

1 Cor. 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

On the first Sunday of Advent, we enter into a new year with joyful expectation of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Advent is a time of waiting and longing for God’s presence, which means that Advent is a season well suited to many churches in North America.  I serve a small church in Mississippi that has slowly, over a period of years, dwindled to an average worship attendance of about twenty people.  This past week our congregation met with our District Superintendent about the vitality of our church, its future, and the possibility of closing the church.  During the meeting my parishioners lamented to the D.S. that ‘it wasn’t always like this.’  They remembered the days when the sanctuary was packed and the halls were filled with noisy and rambunctious youth.  In some ways the meeting was a communal lament for the lost ‘golden years’ of the congregation’s life. 

 As a leader in the church it can be tempting to view these sentiments as a modern day version of the grumbling of the Israelites who idealized their past and failed to trust God for their future.  (Ex. 16)  However, what I heard in these conversations was not so much grumbling as groaning.  “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-30).  With church membership and worship attendance in decline all over North America, I am sure that my small church is not the only one groaning inwardly, longing for the redemption of their body.

In this week’s lectionary text from Isaiah we encounter the prayer of one groaning over a past filled with loss, and a future that has already taken too long in the coming.  The lectionary reading is part of a larger prayer of lament that begins in 63:15 and ends with the troubling question of 64:12 “After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord?”  The preacher should strongly consider using the entire prayer during worship.  The lection opens with a request for God’s presence: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” which flows much more naturally following the lament of God’s absence that begins the prayer in 63:15.  Read more

van Eyck lamb

Lamb and Shepherd: The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

The Reign of Christ
Christ the King

Ezekiel 34: 11-16
Ephesians 1: 15-23 OR 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Matthew 25: 31-46

There is a poster on the wall in the weight room of our local recreation centre where I go twice a week for strength training, along with some amazing 70 and 80 year olds (yes, at forty-six my nickname is “the kid”). I try not to look at the poster as it gets my goat, blithely proclaiming that the destination matters not, only the journey is important. Except, of course, the destination in large part determines the journey and without a destination the journey can get pretty lost and chaotic. This coming Sunday, Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in this liturgical year, is set aside to highlight the destination of our journey together in Christian faith. Having come full circle and before we begin again a new Christian year, it is to remind us, with our hearts enlightened, of who we are and whose we are and of the hope to which Christ has called us. Read more

row of shovels

Jesus is Coming – Look Busy

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Judges 4:1-7 OR Proverbs 31:10-31
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

With the attention demanded by All Saints, Christ the King, and the First Sunday of Advent this month, the preacher has little time to spend with this last so-called Ordinary Sunday of the Church year. In my own United Methodist tradition this also happens to be the time of year when Finance committees are urgently preparing 2012 budgets and pastors are nervously writing stewardship sermons in hopes of funding those budgets. This weekend’s gospel text seems to play right into this pattern with a pre-packaged message about stewardship lined up for the occasion. Investing our time, talents, and even money for the up-building of the Kingdom of God might well be a legitimate reading of this text, but could likely fall on deaf ears this time of year. Who, while readying themselves to enter the bustle of this season of the year, wants to be told they’re not already doing enough for the Kingdom of God? Read more

Last Judgment

The Terrible Speed of Mercy

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Six months ago I was doing my part to rail against the folly of doomsday predictions and the dangers of rapture theology. At the time, Harold Camping and his May 21 prediction were the epicenter of media frenzy, not only in The Rapture Gazette and late-night paid programming, but also in above-the-fold NY Times articles and primetime NPR stories. This truly bewildering sensation spawned billboards, talking head reports, and “end of the world” parties.

I still shake my head and wonder if the madness in May was not only Harold Camping’s, but also biblical eschatology’s proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. Did the words we needed to speak six months ago have the unintended effect of making people sink more deeply than ever into living as in the days of Noah? Read more

Peaches - Brent Aldrich

The Deeper and Richer Life of Gratitude

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.”

Gratitude is at the core of our identity as the people of God.  God has created us and continually provides for us.  Even when times get tough in our broken world, when we’re hungry and thirsty and our soul is fainting within us (v. 5), God hears our cries and delivers us.  The Israelite people certainly knew their share of troubles – being slaves in Egypt, wandering in the desert for forty years, going into exile, and so on – but yet the Psalms, their prayerbook that gave shape to their life together was filled with prayers of thanksgiving like today’s reading from Psalm 107 that celebrate the goodness and the provision of God.

And yet, gratitude is one of the most difficult virtues for us to cultivate in the Western world.  Why is this? Above all, we are extraordinarily wealthy; we have the resources and technologies to take care of almost all our needs, and thus it is easy for us to lose sight of God’s provision. Additionally, we are immersed in a sea of advertising every day that fuels our ingratitude by reminding us of all the things that we don’t have, but that we should want.  We also are so far removed from agriculture that we easily lose sight of God’s providing through creation for our most basic need, food.

So what can we, as Westerners, learn about gratitude from the Israelite people of the Old Testament?

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