Sermon    December 20, 2015

Messengers of Love   By Rev. June Fothergill   scripture: Luke 1: 39-55

I heard the jingle for AAA memberships on the radio the other day. Their tag line is Give a member ship to AAA- give peace of mind, give life.   When Mary went to see Elizabeth she risked such a long journey alone because she was looking for the support that would save her life.  After hearing such a strange, wonderful and dangerous word from the angel that she would have God’s baby, she needed the love that that the angel’s word had pointed her toward- “and your kinswoman, Elizabeth who was barren is also with child.”   Mary and Elizabeth’s experience together show us AAA’s of what it means to love one another.  NO it’s not about cars and roadside assistance.  It’s about affection, affirmation and advocacy.

1. Affection

When Mary arrived at her door, and surely she couldn’t have phoned ahead in those days, they greet each other and it is clear that Elizabeth will provide hospitality to Mary. In fact she stays with them for 6 months Luke tells us.     We imagine that they greeted each other with the usual affection of two kinswomen. But for Elizabeth there is more. The Spirit of God moved in her to see Mary not just as a kinswoman but as blessed.

Showing affection for someone is one of the ways we show them our love or positive regard. Different cultures show affection in different ways, but many include some form of safe touch that says- I care about you.  Showing affection is harder for some people than others but it is a choice we can all make in our interactions with others.  I remember my Daddy was not a very demonstrative person.  He would say nice things to us but he rarely would hug when we were little. But he had three daughters and as we grew up we went to camp and youth group and got other ideas about giving affection. We discovered hugs or as we called them then “warm fuzzies.”   So my father was bit by bit converted by his daughters to become a hugger- a giver of warm fuzzies.   As you may imagine we delighted in this transformation.

Affection in the case of Mary and Elizabeth also had a deeper, more risky aspect, being willing to provide hospitality.  It was a norm of that society that giving hospitality to others was a high value.  Yet, it had its risks.  Mary was unexpectedly and mysteriously pregnant- could that possible shame reflect on her hosts?   We know that in other Biblical stories like that of Rahab the brave woman who housed Israelite spies, offering hospitality has its risks.   Yet, mutual affection and hospitality are the glue that holds together families and communities.  It is this care for one another that allows us to love as God calls us to love.    Today you have been given a little greeting card.  And there are several down in front ready to be sent to folks who have not been to our worship for some time. They are simply a way for us to say – we are thinking of you, we want to show you some affection.  I invite you to sign the cards before you leave today and to take and use the card given you to pass on some affection to someone else.

Show affection is not all that is involved in the AAA’s of loving.

2. Affirmation

Mary and Elizabeth show us that loving also means to affirm one another.  Elizabeth looked at Mary and the baby in her womb leapt with joy.  Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw and affirmed the gift Mary had been given. She was blessed to be the mother of the Lord.   Loving one another also means affirming the dignity and worth and gifts of each other.

I remember on time leading an after school campfire club program for a group of low income 4th and 5th graders.  They were a rather scrappy bunch.  They had learned the art of the “put down.”  So I decided they needed to learn how to give compliments.  “It’s simple, I said, “Just look at the person, smile, find something you like about them and tell them about it.”   So we went around the circle and tried it out.   I discovered they were quite good at complimenting each other’s clothing.  Well it was a start!

Giving affirmation does not just mean giving compliments. It can also mean affirming the dignity and worth of someone by speaking the truth to them.  It can be a tough love, which listens and cares but also notices when someone is hurting themselves and others and finds ways to help the person see that truth.  It means valuing them enough, seeing their potential enough, to help them find a more healthy path.  In AA circles it can be an intervention.  This is Jesus pointing out to his friends and comrades the Pharisees the ways they were being hypocritical in their practices.   It is John the Baptist valuing the people who came out to him enough to tell them to share with others.   We try to do it with affection and honesty, but sometimes affirmation means giving the tough feedback.

I remember one time when a Professor that I trusted and knew cared about me took me aside and suggested that I needed to let go of my judgmental attitude toward my fellow student travelers.  He asked me to try to understand rather than judge them.  It was not an easy word to hear but I have always been grateful for how much he cared/ loved me to be willing to share a word of truth I needed. He affirmed me not only through affirmation of my academic gifts but through seeing me as a whole, person capable of growth.

3. Advocacy

Finally, the last A of our AAA‘s of loving is what I call Advocacy.  This is shown to us in the song Mary sings to Elizabeth. It is a song about what God has done and will do for his people. God is the one who teaches us how to love one another. In the song Mary says that God has brought up the lowly and taken down the proud. God has provided for the needs of the hungry and sent those who have all they need and more, away empty.  This loves on a bigger stage – this is love and acts of justice for Mary’s people and for the world.  God loves by attending to the well being of his people.

This is advocacy. Not just giving a hug or affirming a gift but also standing beside someone when times are tough or speaking up for their needs and rights in the public square or making sure that the institutions of the community are truly addressing their needs.  This is what a parent of a special needs child does every time he or she goes to a meeting with the teachers. This is what we do when we write a letter of call our legislators and ask them to make housing and adequate food for all people in our community a priority of our national funds.   This is what we do when we not only provide a meal to the community but work to make it one where each person is treated with dignity and feels safe and part of something bigger than themselves.

One small way I plan to live out this advocacy loving is by signing a letter that has been drafted by the Interfaith Clergy United group in our area.  It was drafted by our local rabbi and another pastor and states that we disagree with the hate speech and actions being directed against our Muslim neighbors and the rise in fear based rhetoric.  I have a copy of the letter here if anyone would like to see it before it is published in the Eugene Register Guard.  I will always remember my 95 year old friend Ilene who told me after 9/11 as she was leaving Canyonville UIMC – “June I pray that we will not repeat history, that we don’t repeat what we did to the Japanese Americans.”  I sign the letter in her honor and as a small act of love for this world.

So these are the AAA’s of loving for today thanks to Mary and Elizabeth and Luke who told their story.  I hope that as you enjoy the Christmas week ahead that you will remember and ask God’s help to practice the AAA’s of Loving: Affection, Affirmation and Advocacy.

Sermon December 13, 2015

Messengers of Joy by Rev. June Fothergill    Isaiah 12:2-6    Luke 3: 7-18

A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table she turned to their six year old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”  “I wouldn’t know what to say,” the girl replied.

“Just say what you hear Mommy say,” her mother answered.

The daughter bowed her head and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

I wonder what that mother’s week was like!   How was your week?   I’ve had a week where people I cared about struggled with difficult life transitions.  They were shipwrecked by life’s storms.   I felt helpless as their ships went down and mine filled with the water of their pain. I remembered a young man I knew in Boise, let’s call him Matt.  He was an up and coming engineering student, smart and athletic.  One day when he was jogging he was hit by a car and left on the side of the road. When he was finally found he had sustained a bad head injury.  As he recovered it was clear that he could no longer do the higher math nor had the memory to do the engineering he had loved and where he had excelled. His whole life and future was shipwrecked. He was lost and confused.

In a world of grief and loss, homelessness and war, how can we have joy? How can we even talk about joy?   Surely, it makes more sense to talk about judgment and lament.  The prophet John looked around his world of the first century and saw a people who had gone astray from their moorings.  They were lost and needed to be woken up, they needed to be convicted.  They needed to repent.  So John spoke with fiery words.  You brood of vipers!  What brought you here?  Do you suppose that your status in society will save you?  NO.   You need to bear the fruits of repentance.  Don’t just come here for some self assuring ritual.  Come ready to change your life!  For if you don’t you will be cut down and thrown into the fire!

What do we think of John’s words?  They were meant to shake up the status quo of his world. What about ours?  Does our world need shaking up?  Do we need to flee from the wrath to come?  Do we need to wake up?    I have to say that often the ship wrecks of our lives are not all about our individual choices alone. They are also about bureaucratic systems and lack of care for those who are most vulnerable in our society.   They are also about the deep roots of abuse that are in our society that affect one generation after another.  For me it was also about my own inability to mentor with wisdom and courage.  In other words, I felt my friends’ pain and realized that at some level we are all shipwrecked on the shore of life; that we have limited visions and make imperfect choices.  We are unable to save ourselves.  We know that at any moment the axe will be at the root of our tree, for where o where are our fruits!

So quite naturally we cry out with the people of John’s day- What are we to do?”   To the ordinary people John said simply- share what you have with others. To the tax collectors, the wealthy businessmen, John said- be fair in your dealings.  To the soldiers who had power to oppress others, he said don’t abuse your power!    In other words, John showed each one that God met them where they were.  There was a way each of them in their particular situation could turn toward God’s way and have fruit.    This is John’s message for us -Everyone can start exactly where they are and live a more God-centered life. And there, of course, is where the joy is – in recognizing that God meets us where  we are, begins to transform us, and leads us into a more full and God-like life.

That is what happened to my young friend Matt. He struggled with his recovery. He had to rebuild who we was all over again, but with God’s help and the support of his community, he found a new life.  He couldn’t be an engineer, but he learned how to craft violins.

The crowds sensed the new life John promised.  They listened to John and started to wonder if he was the long awaited messiah who would bring God’s kingdom.  John let them know that he was not.   John said “I can tell you what is needed as a prophet. I can tell you how to live well and justly and give you rituals/ symbols like water baptism of the change of heart.   But the Christ (the one coming) can empower you to DO IT. This one will baptize your with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This One can change you from the inside out so you can shine.

There is a story that one day Francis of Assisi found Brother Leo sitting sadly along the roadside. They talked a bit.   Then Francis said, “Ah now I understand why you’re sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.

“Right, said Leo, “That’s why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.”

Francis replied, “Leo listen carefully to me. Don’t be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire him. Rejoice that he is what he is- your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you’ve turn to Jesus, don’t turn back and look at yourself. Don’t wonder where you stand with him. The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry.

“Focus your vision outside yourself on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise him from sunrise to sundown. Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into his peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled- stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.”

After a long pause Leo said, “Still Francis the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”

“No doubt about that, replied Francis, “But holiness is not a personal achievement. It’s an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew.” Then Leo asked the question we all ask- How?

Francis answered, “Simply hoard nothing of yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging painful consciousness of your past. Accept being shipwrecked….See only the compassion, the infinite patience and the tender love of Christ Jesus is Lord. That suffices.”  (December 20, Shipwrecked at the Stable” by Brennan Manning, in Watch for the Light, Plough Publishing: 2001)

This is the good news.  This is the word of joy.

The good news of John to the people and to us is that Christ Jesus is the one who takes our shipwrecked, troubled lives and world and  washes us clean, helps us clear out all the clutter and junk in the way of a healthy, God centered life.   Christ, as John said, burns the chaff so that the good grain can be harvested- so that we can be fruitful and know true joy in our relationship with Christ.

So I invite you this advent season to make a choice to focus your eyes and hearts on Christ Jesus.  Find the way that helps you to stay focused on Christ.   Maybe music connects you to the joy of Christ; maybe it’s time in the out of doors; or taking time to truly be present with another person or spending time in prayer and reflection on scripture, or working on art or advocacy.   In all these ways and more, we keep our eyes focused on Christ present in our world.  And most importantly, let yourself receive Christ with empty hands.  Don’t shy away from your emptiness, your limitations, your humanness- accept it and let Christ fill it with his presence and light.

WE are all shipwrecked. WE all need the light and love and mercy of our Christ

And Christ Jesus meets each of us where we are and offers us a way to live more fully and faithfully. This is the good news. This is the joy we sing, proclaim and claim.  Amen

Children’s time:

Joy- bells    How do we express our joy?    Where does joy come from?  It comes from when our heart is happy, when we sense that God is present and loves us.    It is the moment when we let ourselves just simply trust that all will be well; when we glimpse a bit of the wonder of compassion and kindness of Jesus.   Joy comes from spreading that kindness.

“ God’s love is good news!”   I invite you to ring this bell and share a message of joy with someone this week.

Sermon December 6, 2015  Messengers of Peace by June Fothergill  Scripture:  Luke 1: 69-78

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were up in years.  He was still working as priest at the temple but soon someone younger would take his place.   They stayed married all those years even though Elizabeth had never had a child.  This must have been a great weight for both of them but Zechariah did not choose to divorce Elizabeth and try for a more fertile match.   Zechariah came from a long line of priests serving the temple and the tabernacle before it reaching back to King David.   Luke tells us that they were “were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandment and regulations of the Lord.” They were outstanding, exemplary persons.  One day it was Zechariah’s turn to enter the sanctuary and give incense offerings while the people waited outside praying.  While he was in this holy spot an angel came to him!

Imagine!  This was a holy spot but it’d never been quite that holy!  Zechariah was terrified.  But then the angel called him my name and told him not to be afraid. His prayers had been heard!  Elizabeth was going to have a baby!   The angel even told him to name the baby John.  The angel finished off by telling Zechariah, “ You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord .  He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the holy spirit.  He will turn many people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  ( Luke 1: 14-16)

Wow- what a resume for a little unlikely baby!  I imagine it was a lot for ol Zachariah to take in. He’d never expected such a thing!   So it’s not too surprising that he asked the angel for some reassurance. Zechariah ‘s answer- How will I know that this is so?  Didn’t please the angel.  Perhaps the angel understood that Zech wasn’t quite ready for the news.  How will you know this is true?  You will be unable to speak until it came to pass.   So for nine months or so Zechariah lived unable to speak.  He was silent.  He could tell no one the tremendous news.  This silence gave him time to contemplate, to listen.  In some ways it parallels the time of seclusion that Elizabeth took when she realized she was pregnant. Both of them had  waited for the fulfillment of God in their lives. They waited in growing despair at their barrenness and then in anticipation in her pregnancy.

Zechariah doubted the angel but I wonder what happened in that time of silence and retreat?    It was an opportunity to grow deeper into his faith and reflect upon his temple vision.  When his son was born he spoke with Spirit it filled authority a word of blessings and peace for his son and his people.

These words of Zechariah we read today still resonate today with our longing for a safer world and ways to find paths to peace for a world that seems more and more violent and torn apart.   What does Zechariah’s story mean for us today?   How can we too become messengers of peace?

1.   Zechariah’s message grew out of time in Silence- when he listened rather than spoke.  I think that this is significant. The way to discover the path of peace is not through our chatter and talk.  In fact, how easily we can talk ourselves into acts of warfare.   When conflicts erupt in our world or our communities, too often it starts with wars of words or words of war.  Too often parties in conflict talk past each other- each sure of their own rightness and barely listening to the words or needs or feelings of the other.  The misuse of words is at the root of the stereotyping that makes violence against another more possible.   So, what if we were struck dumb like Zechariah, in the midst of our doubts and questioning, our arrogance and “ righteousness”   what if we stopped the rush of words and stepped back to listen. To listen to one another, and especially to listen to the Spirit within us.

I remember once my sister told me that sometimes she was uncomfortable with silent prayer in the worship service. “  I have to notice what is really going on inside of me in the silence.  “  Silence in our society is not easy to find and also not comfortable more most of us.  Yet, it is when we are silent, when we let the many thoughts running through our minds quiet down, when we take the time to breath and yes, smile that we learn to be open to the lIght that dawns upon us in mercy, the light of Christ which shows us the paths of peace. Peace inside, peace in our relationships and ultimately peace in the world.

Silence and contemplation are not easy in our busy world, but they are essential for the work of peacemaking.  Deborah Smith  Douglas , a long time peace advocate puts it this way,

“ The contemplative gifts of solitude and silence make it harder to persuade ourselves of our won individual rightness and invite us to divest ourselves of self-obsession and delusion. They also open us to the possibility of completely different ways of being in the world and with God.” (p. 45  “ Being Right of Ringing True,” Weavings XX:4 )

This is what Zechariah did- he spent time in silence.   And after the nine months of seclusion and listening,  when his son was finally born. Zechariah spoke from that deep, God place.    He spoke words for his child.

2. For the second thing Zechariah shows us is that the message of peace needs to be shared with the children.  He spoke to his new son- affirming his name, John and then teaching him about his faith.  The first part of the poem Zechariah spoke told of the relationship between God and Israel.  He proclaimed how God had redeemed and saved his people by bringing them a savior from the house of David.  He taught about the covenant that God made with Abraham- that they would live righteous lives- lives that would bless all the families of the world.   God who had rescued them from the hands of enemies and hatred so that they could live good, righteous lives-  without fear.  This is who we are  Zechariah teaches his son and us.

Then he tells his baby son what God called him to do- to prepare them for the coming of the Lord through knowledge of salvation and forgiveness of sins.  Zechariah knows how important it is to share with his son the faith of his tradition. The unexpected gift of his son had shown him that God was still at work through them.

What does it mean for us to teach the children our living tradition?   If you were to write a poem, an essay or make a recording for your children and grandchildren teaching them the most important things you want them to know about the life of faith or their heritage of faith, what would you say?   I invite you this advent to consider making such a statement as a gift to your children and grandchildren.   This will be the most important legacy you can give them.

If we want to build a peaceful world- where do we start but our children?    We can teach them to hate people who are different or to listen and learn from them. We can teach them to deal with conflict through violence and intimidation or through negotiation and listening.   We can teach them what Jesus taught or we can let the world be their only teacher.

I remember when my son was 2 years old. I am not sure now why but he got really angry.   He got out his little fists and ready to punch someone.  I remember telling him- “ I see you’re so mad. Try stomping your feet instead of punching someone.”    For better or worse, I taught him what I deeply believe – that we have choices. That because of Christ,  we can choose peace.

3.  For finally Zechariah puts it so beautifully, “ By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in to the way of peace.”

Zechariah reminds us that the core of peacemaking is to walk in the light of Christ.   Sometimes we sit in darkness.  We have troubles seeing the way ahead, the way to a peaceful solution.  Sometimes we sit in darkness because our hearts are heavy with bitterness and hurt, we want to avenge those hurts.  Sometimes we sit in darkness because life and its traumas have taken their toll on us and our community. The cycle of violence and fear just seem endless.    It is in those times of darkness, whatever they are for us and our communities, that we need the light.  We need the mercy and guidance of Christ.  Zechariah understood this.  His word to his son invites us to turn again to the light for our lives. To let that light guide our steps.  To accept the mercy, healing and forgiveness Christ continues to bring.

The great theologian Karl Barth put it this way, “ We must once and for all give up trying to be self made individuals. Let us cease preaching by ourselves, being right by ourselves, improving the world by ourselves. God wants to do everything; certainly through us and with us and never without us; but our participation in what God does must naturally originate and grow out of God’s power, not ours.”( Karl Barth “ To Believe”  December 13  Watch for the Light, Plough Publishing House, 2001)

Heifer Project International is one of those groups in the world who seeks to be a channel for this power of God to guide us in the ways of mercy and peace.    In 1997 the Fingeh and Banbui people in the African nation of Cameron had fought bitterly over land.  Heifer Project rabbit farming was well established in the area but many lost everything in the conflict. Partner families agreed to help pay victims’ hospital bills and school fees and to establish a credit union.  Heifer Project supplied displaced farmers with rabbits. These farmers agreed to pass on two for each one received.  The rabbits provided much needed protein.  While they rebuilt their homes Fingeh and Bambui families who once fought each other were living side by side in abandoned school buildings. They passed on the gift of rabbits to one another as a promise of peace in the village. ( World Ark Winter 1997) When I checked the internet for word of any recent fighting between these people I found none today.

In the power of this light of Christ shining through our lives, we can be messengers of peace in our world.  As you come to communion this morning I invite you to deepen your relationship with Christ in the silence,  and listen for how you are being called, nudged, invited or challenged to be a messenger of peace this advent Christmas season.

 

 

Sermon  November 29, 2015

Messengers of Hope  Jeremiah 33: 14-16

The days are coming says the Lord when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the House of Judah. In those days and at that time will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety and this is the name by which it will be called, “ Lord is our righteousness.”

Story of Jeremiah

Jeremiah grew up near the northern border of the land of Judah with the Northern Kingdom called Israel. His ancestors had been exiled there when they backed the wrong man to become king.  So Jeremiah although called by God as a young man to become a prophet to the rulers of Judah, had a background of living on the margins.    He lived through one of the toughest times in the ancient history of Judah and Israel.    Growing up close to the Northern kingdom he knew the stories of the fall of that kingdom to the armies of Assyria. Surely that destruction had affected his village as well.

Later he journeyed to Jerusalem with messages from God for the rulers and people of the center of the southern kingdom.  At first he may have been inspired by King Josiah’s reforms which tried to return the people to the traditional worship of God.  But when Josiah died and his reforms fell apart Jeremiah had to speak out.  He spoke in images and strong words to tell the people- return back to the worship of God, the one who gave you this land, who brought you out of Egypt.  Instead you defile the land and turn away from God.  You were planted as a fine vineyard- how can you be such a wild vine now?  Let the gods you have fashioned for yourselves save you now, for destruction is coming.

The second part of his message was to the rulers-  you need to give into the new empire-  Babylon.  If you try to rebel against them you will only bring destruction and ruin on yourselves and the kingdom.   Jeremiah not only spoke these messages, he embodied them in symbolic actions, got thrown in prison for them and lived through their happening.

When Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 587 B.C. and the elite sent into exile in Babylon, Jeremiah chose to say and try to help people to rebuild their lives.  He spoke words of hope yet eventually  had to flee with a group to Egypt.    He lived through the crisis  in his people’s lives and faith.    He watched as they lost everything that they had clung to to give them as sense of who they were: their temple- religious center, their nationhood and government,  and for many of them their homes and even their lives as Jerusalem suffered under siege and the surrounding countryside experienced the ravages of an invading army.   He too lost everything.

Yet, the book of Jeremiah is  a book of hope.  His words were preserved for his people as  biblical scholar  R. E. Clements puts it, “  In preserving the record of Jeremiah’s prophecies the unknown scribes and compilers have done so with a view to assisting men and women overtaken by these tragedies to face them ,to respond courageously to them and to look in hope beyond them.”  ( p. 3,  Jeremiah by RE Clements, Interpretation series, 1988)

Jeremiah’s words spoke hope for his people. They can help us today to be messengers of hope for our time as well.

1. Jeremiah told the truth.   The prophetic word starts with the real situation confronting the community.  Prophets don’t try to sugar coat things. They look with a keen eye at the troubles and sins around them and speak up about what they see.  This is what God calls them to do.  Jeremiah told the rulers disaster was coming.  He saw that the reforms  king Josiah had tried to implement hadn’t changed people’s hearts or the structures of power and oppression.

Jeremiah ‘s story reminds us that we cannot truly speak a message of hope to our world or to another person until we are willing to be real.  To face the struggles and suffering going on in our community, in our lives.   This is tough work.   Most of us find it difficult to speak difficult truths to one another and most especially to speak truth to power.   Yet, this is where Jeremiah and through him God invite us to start.    And addict has to first admit that they have no control over their addiction.  A community has to be willing to see that they don’t have enough low income housing.   A church has to admit  that they are in decline.  A person has to acknowlege the sin in ones life.

Being real is not easy.  It can be the fire burning in our bones.  It can land us in trouble!  Just like Jeremiah.  But it opens us to the possibilities of God!    It makes repentance and new life possible! It is the birth pang of God given hope.

2.  For secondly, Jeremiah clung to God.  His work as a prophet, a messenger of Hope came from God,.   His word to his people over and over was remember God, God who brought them out of Egypt,  God who had been their deliverer.     A message that is just about the harsh realities is not a message of hope, but despair.  Jeremiah  knew deep down that the hope his people needed was a renewed relationship with God, their creator and deliverer!   He knew in his broken heart that God would never forsake them.  He experienced God crying out to the people- “ I have loved my people  but they have forgotten me.”  ( 2:32)

When I  asked folks at the Wednesday night meal to share with me their ideas about how to help someone have hope. Several people wrote- pray with them.    Such a simple yet profound action. To stop for a moment and together bring the tough things to God.  To pause in the busyness of our lives to reconnect with the Source of our lives.   To take a moment to just realize that there is a power of love and compassion greater than you and me!  To be quiet long enough to let God’s presence touch your inner being.

Even Jesus himself took time to reconnect with God in prayer and taught his disciples to pray.  When we turn to God as our Source, our Center, our Redeemer, yes our Hope- then we can find ways to become messenger of  Hope to the world.  We can learn to face the tough realities of injustice, of ecological destruction, of addiction, of disease and even death and discover God’s word of hope.  God’s possibilities become alive in us.

3.  For finally, we come to Jeremiah’s words that we read today.  Jeremiah saw and spoke the  tough truths, he connected to and helped his people remember God and finally he encouraged folks to dream, to trust in God’s promises that were not yet, but on the horizon.  His words of hope then are not superficial day dreams or utopian fantasies. They grew from a deep encounter with the realities of the world and the steadfastness of God.  They were to give people a blue print, a vision for a God intended future.     As Jim  Stradthee writes in his song,  “ Waiting of the Kindom of God.”

“ What we do while we wait depends on what we’re waiting for.”

To wait and to hope are translations of the same Hebrew word.   To wait is to hope and to hope is to wait.    We live in a not yet time- for Jesus declared that the kingdom of  God has come into our midst- yet, clearly it is not yet a reality for all people.  So, we wait and hope and we do what we can in our time to live into the promised time.

So being messengers of hope is not just about saying hopeful things, it is about walking beside people who suffer, encouraging them, inviting their dreams and visions to surface and when possible helping them to become reality.   Jeremiah heard the suffering of his people and he walked with them through the chaos, the destruction, the sieges, the disappointing rulers.  It was his faithful presence as a sign of God among them that put flesh on his words of hope and promise.     At one point in the middle of the terrible time just before Jerusalem was destroyed and he was in jail, he had his servant go out and purchase a parcel of land in Judah and keep the deed for the time when  God would restore the fortunes of Judah.

That is what we can do as messengers of hope for our world. We can act in ways that make the world we hope for possible. We can act today to build the systems of justice and peace we long for.  We can take care of ourselves and those around us in tender loving ways that will spread the love of God.  As some  from Wednesday night put it, “ Ways to offer someone hope.. hugs, smiles, pats on the back, treat them like they’re human.”     Or “  A way to offer someone  hope is to spend time with them doing something positive, inviting them to events like the Wednesday night meal”

This advent, could it be that each of you can become a messenger of hope for someone else?  Could it be that you could invite them to an event where they will encounter a positive vision for the world? Could it be that you could pause to pray with someone who is struggling?  Could it be that you could chose one way to act upon the hopes you have for the world- through a letter you write or a child you teach or a friend you succor?   I think that this advent we are all a little like Jeremiah- maybe we won’t be called to speak harsh truths to the center of power like he did or maybe some of us will, but we are called to speak truth, to offer God and to act on hope to the circle of our influence.   God is forming us this advent as messengers of hope.

 

 

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