Advent 4    “Serving Christ in this Very Place” by Rev. June Fothergill   December 18, 2016

Isaiah 7 ,   2 Chronicles 6:1,2,18-21,40-42; 7:1-4 Hebrews 10: 19-25

The little Kingdom of Judah was in trouble, surrounded by enemies on all sides.  The Bible says ( vs. 7:2) his heart shook like the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”    The King Ahaz, had heard a word from God to ask for a sign. But he said, “ I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test.”  But the prophet Isaiah saw his fearful heart.  “  Come on. “ He said, “ God asked you  to seek a sign. Can’t you just trust God and look for one?  So look the Lord is giving you a sign.  The young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him  Immanuel- God with us.   For before this little one is weaned, this threat that so frightens you will be  gone.

The sign God gave to the frightened king was a little baby-  someone to love and cherish, to care for with  curds and honey.  These were choice foods for a weaned child but hard to find in a city under siege.  God was telling King Ahaz that all would be well for this little child.   By the time the child was weaned, those who threatened Judah would be gone.    Centuries later, the first Christians, particularly the writer of Matthew’s gospel looked upon this promise of God in scripture and saw a parallel to what God was doing in Jesus and Mary.  God came to bring salvation through a little child- God with us.  A child needing our tender loving care.  Could it be that God continues to come to us as the vulnerable one who needs our love .   That opportunities for tender loving care still give our world hope in the midst of despair, pain and fear?

The other night at the Egan Warming Center, I met a young woman who was frightened and cold.  It was her first time in such a place.  She didn’t want to talk with anyone.   I invited her to sit with me and introduced her to a couple of my friends also staying at the Center.    They reached out to her with gentle TLC and humor.  Before I left that night she was talking some with me.  Tonight the Egan Warming Center will open once again.  Folks  from all over the valley will come to show tender, loving care for the most vulnerable in our midst on a cold night.  Soon it will be our turn to host the Center, already several of our members are involved as volunteers.   For one hundred years this congregation has served and loved in this way and many others in this very place on 6th and C, as we say, the place to be.

One hundred years ago in December people from Springfield and dignitaries from the region gathered to dedicate a new church building. At the time it must have been one of the biggest buildings in the town.   Quite an undertaking.  We are grateful to them for that good work.   This space continues to allow us to undertake ministries of tender loving and care.  Down through the hundred years many  people of all ages have learned about Christ, loved one another, struggled with differences and sought to serve with joy and kindness  the God who loved them.   Many of you here today have stories about how this place and people have touched your lives.    I want to thank  The Rev. Alice Knotts for writing about her experiences and sharing them with us.  I want to thank Kazuko  Sacon for coming all the way from Japan to share her music with us again.   I want to thank the Caldwell family for coming to share the advent wreath today.  I give thanks for all of us here today.  We are not here because of a building. We are here because of TLC, Tender Loving Care.

Buildings need TLC to stay standing.  Empty ones mostly just fall apart and become ruins.    Groups like a congregation also need TLC to keep going in vital life giving ways.  Without it they descend into disharmony and bitterness.    I believe that in this very place, in this community of faith, there is enough love and power and faith- enough TLC -not just to keep this building and congregation going  but to transform the world.

I know that sounds audacious.   Do I really believe it?   I do.  Not because you and I are special but because we are ordinary.  We are the ordinary ones with the clay feet who Jesus came to love and save.  We are the ordinary ones like Mary and Joseph who welcomed a little baby who both needed their TLC and would grow up to be our savior.  We are the ordinary ones who have received the forgiveness, the touch of grace Jesus offers the world.   And because we have decided to follow this Christ, we challenge ourselves to lives of TLC, not just for our own families but the strangers, not just for the easy nice folks but also the addicted, angry folks, not just the young and beautiful but the elderly and wrinkled .    Not just the tiny baby, our savior in the manger but every child born.

I believe that it is this TLC which transforms the world.   In 1916 the people of this church also sought to change the world.  They wanted the world to know Jesus and his grace and forgiveness. They challenged their members to live a godly lives and not get distracted by the ways of the world.    In the 1916 Discipline of the Methodist Episcipal Church there continued to be an admonition against slavery. There was guidance to watch out for distracting amusements.  There was an emphasis on temperance and morality.  The Bishop’s address  declared that the purpose of the Methodist E Church was evangelizing the continent and “ to spread scriptural holiness “ over these lands.   How did they do this?

The discipline speaks of the rules of the Methodist societies, or small groups.  1.  Doing no harm, avoiding evil   2. By doing good by being in every kind merciful after their power; As they have opportunity doing good of every possible sort and as far as possible to all ( men).  3. Attending upon all the ordinances of God: worship, prayer, communion.   This sounds rather familiar, does it not , we even have it on our Ebbert T Shirt.

Yet things were also different 100 years ago.  There was also a section in the discipline about trials for  a church member for : immoral conduct or imprudent conduct or neglect of means of Grace or Causing Dissension, or Disagreements in Business  or insolvency.   It doesn’t say how often this happened.  Yet this review of the discipline of the church in 1916 tells us that a lot has changed !    Yet, underlining all of this was, I believe was the same desire we have today- to faithfully follow Christ.  To live lives that truly reflect  His love and mercy.   And I believe such living transforms the world.

The world is transformed when a mother learns to treat her child with TLC.    It happens when a group of woman  both Jewish and Muslim decide to meet and work together in a country- Israel – which is deeply divided.    It happens when my sister buys Divine Chocolate bars for Jim’s birthday, thus supporting cocoa farmer cooperatives in Ghana which builds schools for the farmers and their families.   It happens when someone takes the time to deliver communion and Christmas flowers to a lonely older person.  It happens when we wrestle in our hearts with homelessness and seek solutions together.   It happens when you leave this place to do all the good you can wherever you can.

This building, this history we celebrate today is not about trying to recreate the past.  It is about living with integrity and TLC the challenges of today and  like Ahaz learning to trust God for the future.   King Ahaz was not given a new weapon to fight his enemies. He was not given a better strategic plan or even more fighting men.  He was given a new baby named Immanuel- God with us.  A baby to cherish and treat with Tender Loving Care.   So too today, we are not given all the answers we might want about how to deal with the problems around us.  What we are given is a baby- Immanuel- God with us.  A baby who invites us to love.    A vulnerable one who  teaches us to care even when he or she is crying and colicy.  And a little one who shows us unreserved, undeserved love.

I close with the words to one of my favorite songs by Ron and Carol Harris:

In this very room there’s quite enough love for one like me,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for one like me,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

And in this very room there’s quite enough love for all of us,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for all of us,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

In this very room there’s quite enough love for all the world,
And in this very room there’s quite enough joy for all the world,
And there’s quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom,
For Jesus, Lord Jesus … is in this very room.

Advent 3    December 11, 2016   Joy in the Wilderness by Rev. June Fothergill

Isaiah 35:1-10  Matt 11:2-11 James 5: 7-10

I found this the other day and just have to share it with you: A letter to  God from a child.

Dear  God,  Thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy.  Joyce

Don’t we all wonder sometimes what in the world God is doing?   Even the great prophet John the Baptist  had his moment of questioning.  In Luke and Matthew there is this story about John’s disciples asking Jesus- are you the one  who is to come or are we to wait for another?   Matthew points out that John is in prison when we asks this.  His life is on the line, his suffering sure.  He’s in a different, more harsh kind of wilderness than his beloved desert.  And he is wondering- what is God doing?  Is Jesus the one?   ON the one hand he is expressing his questions  but on the other he is reaching out beyond his prison walls for God’s view.   He is seeking the eyes and ears to find  joy in the wilderness.  And Jesus invites him and his followers to embrace what they see and hear.

In the times of struggle and hurt, in the seasons of shadows and dying, in the traps of addictions and depression- we long for joy, yet we don’t quite think it’s possible or that we don’t quite deserve it. When there is wilderness all around- how can there also be joy?   Yet, a baby Jesus was born in a stable and  the prophet promises- joy can come even in the wilderness.

How do we find that joy?   I think that the scripture in Matthew invites us to ask , to see and to embrace the joy  God brings.

What I notice in the story about John the Baptist is that he asks.   As he sits in his prison he asks the question on his heart.  Should I be rejoicing that the Messiah has come or do I need to wait for another?   One place we start in our search for joy is to ask for it.   God, help me find joy in my life.  This asking is our recognition that we need something in our lives.  Asking acknowledges our deeper longing to be connected with life.

Some of us in our culture have been taught not to ask, as children we were told to be silent,  at school we realized that not everyone with their hand up gets called upon, and at work that  it’s better to just do what the boss tells us.    We figure if we don’t ask too much, we won’t be disappointed.     Even in relationships we forget to ask for what we need, instead we expect others to just “know.”   Yet, there is no shame in asking or requesting what we need.  Even Jesus himself told his followers to ask and it will be given to you , seek and you will find.   Asking  God for joy is a way of trusting that  God is the source of all life and joy.

Of course sometimes when we ask for a puppy we get a little brother-  asking for joy doesn’t mean we will receive it  as we expect.  One of the great things about joy is how often even when ask for it, it comes in unexpected ways- it surprises us.

A woman struggling to find joy in life again after her husband’s sudden death, told me once of how finally after two years, she was able to go to the grave and take off her wedding ring, to her surprise, she found herself  grinning at the fact the grass was barely growing- he was never any good at getting grass to grow and then she looked up and saw a hawk flying on the breeze-a hawk that lifted her spirits.  Unexpectedly in her wilderness joy had found her.

John asks Jesus the question of his heart and Jesus reply is to invite John to see and hear what  God is doing.   Jesus says, “ Go and tell John  what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleanses, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.”         Look around and see,  Jesus says.

I decided to do just that as I prepared for this sermon.   I went for a walk and looked around at the world and my experiences.     As I noticed the rain on my face, I reflected upon Isaiah’s image  in chapter 35 of  water coming to the wilderness,  and realized what the rain, the waters  bring life.  Joy comes because of life.   I remembered that the two most joyous moments of my own life were when my two sons were born. Out of the labor and pain came the wonder of new life!  What joy!

That’s what Jesus wanted John to see-  new life was  coming to people because of Christ.  Joy comes when we open our ears and eyes to what God is doing- bringing life.

The man in the nursing home had given up on life, since his wife had died and he’d broken his hip. But then one day a young Camp Fire kid came to visit and brought him a thank you box filled with the simple things a child is thankful for.  The child talked to the man and was excited to share his gift.  The little boy helped him to open his eyes in a new way.  Now whenever the man looks at that box he remembers to give thanks.

This week we received a letter from a man in prison.  He will be released soon and is asking for our help and friendship.   Maybe like John, he is seeking joy in the wilderness.  Are you at Ebbert UMC,  the ones he wonders?  Are you the Christ people who will welcome and help me find a new life?  When he gets out in a few weeks what will he see?

We open our lives to joy by asking, we discover joy when we look for what Christ is doing and finally, I have noticed that joy comes into our lives when we embrace life.   Jesus noticed this in John,  that he gave himself fully to God as a God’s prophet.  Yet, Jesus tells his disciples- you too will know the fullness of life when you embrace God’s realm.    Joy comes when we embrace the life giving things God is doing in our lives and world.  When we look inside and find ways to connect our gifts and energy to  God’s work and ways.   For example,  Mary the mother of Jesus  didn’t have much to give to God, but she was willing to give her whole self and in doing so she found joy!  She sang with joy, “ My soul magnifies the Lord !”

As I look back at my life, I realize that the moments of joy I treasure all have to do with the joy of following God’s calling to love.  To Love and cherish my two sons, to love the people in each congregation I got to serve,  to care for my parents and my spouse and to seek the welfare of my community.      For finally joy comes not from the  right parties and presents or even the right  anything. Joy comes  from asking in trust, from opening our eyes and ears to see what God is doing and  then embracing all the ways we can participate in the love and life Christ brings.    Then we will know that even in the wilderness of our lives, even in the hard  stuff of conflicts and hurt.  Even in what we think we cannot get through- joy will come!  Joy will come because  Christ , the Lord is near.  Near as the second coming. But also near as the hawk in the air, the thank you box of a child, near as a letter from a prisoner.  Near as the ones we love with all our being.   Near as a big red apple.

One day a pastor met her church organist as she came to the office.  The organist, with a grin gave the pastor a big shiny red apple.  “Just to hope you have a great day.” she said.  Well, the next person the pastor talked with was a young man whose sister was in the hospital having a difficult time with the birth of her first baby. After talking  and prayer, on an impulse the pastor gave the young man the apple- “here take this to your sister as a symbol for how God is with her.”  Later that day the pastor saw the organist again.  They were talking about how this musician shared her music all over town, especially during the holidays.  She had just returned from playing at the maternity ward of the local hospital.  Her eyes shining she shared,  ” I met  a young woman there who was having a tough time with her first pregnancy.   She told me how her brother had given her a big apple to remind her of God’s presence. The sight of it had made her laugh. And when she laughed the baby had kicked- a sign she’s been anxiously waiting for.”  The organist brought out a big shiny red apple.   “That young woman gave me the apple- it looks a lot like the one I gave to you- only better.  My husband has been feeling low- I think it’ll help cheer him.”

Joy shall come! Amen.

Advent 2    December 4, 2016  “Repentance”   by Rev. June Fothergill         Matthew 3: 1-12; Isaiah 11:1-8

I do like the comic For Better Or Worse.  IN one the mother is ragging on her kids for spilling milk and making a mess in the kitchen.  “ Honestly! Why can’t you be more careful. Now I’ve got to clean up Thanks to you.”    As she raises her arm to point a finger at the erring child. Her elbow knocks over her cup of coffee- all over the floor.  Everyone one looks at the new mess and then her son says, “ It’s OK Mom, We all make mistakes.”

John the Baptist was a man on a mission.  His job was to prepare his people for the coming of their Savior, the Messiah.   He had prepared himself for this mission by a life in the desert.  A life focused only on listening to God.  He looked the part- wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt and ate locust and wild honey.    And he had become a sensation. People came from all over to hear him preach out there in the desert. Even the religious and the rich came to see what was happening. John preached repentance of sin and offered people the ritual of water baptism.     In Luke’s gospel the different folks who come to hear him ask him what they should do ?  He tells them- if you have two coats, share one with someone who has none. If you are a soldier- do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusations. I fyou are a tax collector- collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.
And in both Matthew and Luke as we read this morning he blasts the religious officials- “ You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘ We have Abraham as our ancestor’   for I tell you God is able to from these stones to raise up children of Abraham.”

John realized that one of the barriers folks often have to true repentance is their inability to admit they have done wrong.    It’s not easy to acknowledge that we have made a mistake, that our path has not been all faithfulness.  It’s especially hard if like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we have held ourselves up as the ones with moral leadership and ancestry.

So   John the prophet  stirred people up and led them to  see their need for God, for repentance.   Confession of our sin, our mistakes, our guilt, opens up space in our lives for repentance, to be able to turn toward a new, more life giving way.     And often we need the John the Baptists of our lives to help us see our need for change, to recognize our sin.

There once was a couple who lived with their only son Conrad in a modest house on the edge of a great forest. Though they were not rich , they lived a comfortable and happy life together.

One day the man’s father came to make his home with them. The grandfather’s eyes had grown dim, his ears nearly deaf and his hand shook like leaves in the wind. When he ate he was hardly able to hold his spoon without spilling food on the table cloth and the floor. Often bit so food would run out of his mouth, soiling his clothing.

For months the young couple discussed the irritating behavior of the old man. Finally they set a table for him to eat in the corner of the kitchen. Then one day the old man’s trembling hands could no longer hold the glass bowl and it fell to the floor, breaking into a dozen pieces.  The women scolded him and went to the market where she purchased a wooden bowl for grandfather. The old man said very little as he sat in his corner eating out of his wooden bowl.

Late in the fall the father came home from a long day’s work to find Conrad sitting in the billet of the floor carving a block of wood. “ What are you doing, my young man?” Asked the father. “ It is a present for you and Mommy” answered the child. “ I am carving two wooden bowls so that you will have something to eat from when you live with me in your old age.”

The husband and wife looked at each other for a long time and finally they began to weep. That evening they moved the old grandfather back to the family table. From that day on he always ate with them and they said nothing even when he spilled his food.”

John invites us also to admit where we have fallen, to grieve it and to seek a new way.

But a second barrier comes up at this point in many of our lives.  We think that we cannot change.  Sometimes we think this with some arrogance- “ That’s just the way I am!”   But I have noticed that often we think this way because of messages we have heard about ourselves:  “ You’re not good enough.”   “ You always do that!”     “You are worthless if you make a mistake.”   “ You’re too…..”   We’ve all absorbed classifications and labels that presume to define us.  Just like the Pharisees and Sadducees thought that their ancestry defined them.  But John preached that there was One coming after him who was greater than him. One who would not only baptize with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire. Who would bring change- who could get rid of the chaff of our lives!

And Jesus came.  He came and wiped away the chaff not by harsh judgments but by abundant mercy.  Not by rejections but through compassionate welcome.  Not through setting himself up as ruler but by giving himself away on a cross.  He came showing us love and grace.  When we turn to him we discover new possibilities for our lives just like Peter and his friends did.   When we turn to him we find healing just like the bent over woman and so many others.  When we turn to him we find empowerment for ministry just like those first disciples.   When we turn to him we experience radical acceptance and forgiveness just like all the tax collectors and sinners of the Bible.  And this deep compassion for us, this grace and forgiveness continually offered to us  is the energy that allows us to change.  It is the fuel that burns away our chaff and sets us free.

How does Jesus do this?  How does he do this still?  He invites us to the table.  He told us to come together and eat and drink and remember Him, to reconnect with God’s Deep Mercy.

We can bring our true selves to this table- with all our errors, bruises, neglectfulness and folly. And when we come letting go of our need to be right or even righteous, when we come open to the change Christ can bring, when we come then in repentance- then we create the space in our lives and hearts to receive the abundance of  grace, mercy, compassion, healing and wisdom God wants to give us.

I close with a little story.  Sara Miles is a director of ministry at a church with a food pantry ministry in San Francisco.    She writes, “ I thought about the time I’d headed over to  San Francisco General Hospital for a diocesan meeting with others doing food pantries, hospital chaplaincy community organizing. It was all find but I was sick of everyone. I didn’t have the energy to listen to interminable reports in church-speak from inarticulate clergy or to the annoying church bureaucrat who tended to lecture us on process.  I knew they were all well meaning but I’d been at work since 7:30 in the morning and I was really not looking forward to squirming in my chair like a fussy third grader through one more official presentation.

I drove down to the meeting with Paul who , because he was such a superior Christian, instead of a crabby, pathetic one like me, had baked a Texas sheet cake for the meeting , a sort of huge low class chocolate brownie with thick icing. I didn’t care. …  We got out of the car, carrying the cake and some plastic forks and I was still grumbling and then a woman standing at the bus stop in front of the hospital waved at us. “ Hey, what’s that?” she asked. She was a skinny woman with a big toothy smile.

“It’s a Texas sheet cake”  said Paul proudly.

“ I didn’t mean to , but I blurted out, “ You want some cake?”

“ Yeah, “ the woman said, “ Oh yeah, that looks great. I haven’t eaten all day.”

Paul got a little plastic fork and I cut off a piece and handed it to her. She ate it and said, “ Wow that’s amazing, that is so good.” And we all laughed. I went into the meeting feeling undeservedly , irrationally full of joy.  I wasn’t in hell anymore- the hell I’d made for myself out of self righteousness, self pity and blame. I was instead at the feast prepared for everyone from the foundation of the world. ( And all it took was trusting my own authority to give away something delicious without waiting for the right moment without claiming I was too overworked and putting it on my to do list of good deeds. ) ( p. 25  “ Kitchen Communion” by Sara Miles, Christian Century, Feb. 9, 2010)

 

Advent 1   Compassionate Attentiveness   by Rev. June Fothergill  November 27, 2016

Isaiah 2: 1-5; Matthew 24: 36-44, Romans 13: 11-14

I saw a cartoon the other day. A man is at his computer and turns around to see a man standing there who looks like Jesus with a halo and a robe.  The man says, “  Second Coming?  I that’s sounds very nice but right now I’m on the internet.”   ( p. 435 October 1999, Celebration An Ecumenical Worship Resource)

What are we to make of the idea of the Second Coming of Christ in our day and age?   The early believers  like Paul thought it would happen in their lifetimes which was about 2000 years ago.  The writers of Luke, Matthew and John knew it hadn’t happened in the first generation of disciples but still held out hope.    Today, we have seen  groups who were sure it was just around the corner come and go for millennia and some of us look forward to Jesus coming soon to take care of this disasterous world.

Yet, most of the world is more like the man with the computer.  The Second Coming of Jesus is an nice idea but not very connected to their lives.  What does this idea of Jesus coming back again mean for our lives today?      Does this Biblical and theological idea have significance for us still so years later?

One of the purposes of this idea of Jesus  second coming is to offer hope to people caught in times of chaos and trouble.  It tells us that the final outcome of this world is not without. The creation is moving toward a greater purpose. God has not and will not abandon us.

Today we in the church in Springfield do not face the persecutions and oppression of the Roman Empire.  Yet, we have our own troubles.  Our congregation  has grown older and  smaller.  We have opened  our doors  enough to realize  many  people are hungry and without shelter.   We turn on the news and hear of  wars raging and  scary terrorist acts.    Our scientists keep telling us that the earth’s environment is changing in menacing ways,  opiate addiction is an epidemic,  and diseases are becoming resistant  to our drugs,  we can’t trust our media, we worry about our leaders, especially if we are brown skinned we worry about our children’s safety,  we are wary about our neighbor’s values and morality;  women and children continue to be abused, depression is on the rise.  Whew!  And perhaps none of these reported realities touches you personally, but then a health crisis comse or someone you love dies or gets in to trouble.  Life shatters.  Life is shattering!   Has it ever been any different?   Maybe today we see it on a global level that the people of Isaiah, Paul and Matthew’s days did not. Yet, the story is the same.  Human beings are in trouble- we need  help!  We have been given the vision of peace, justice and love from God our Creator, but we can’t in any generation seem to live it out fully.  So we turn in anguish, in hope- COME LORD JESUS,  COME O GOD, build your mountain of peace where all the world can learn and practice your ways.

As human beings we  have been given this longing for a better world, for our better selves.  What are we to do? How can we live?   The passages from Isaiah, Matthew and Romans give us some ideas.

1.     Remember the vision.  Isaiah had a vision of Mt Zion, but the key of that vision is that God wants to instruct the world ( us) in the ways of peace.  The longing and vision of a peaceful, just world where we will not do war anymore, is not just a human fantasy- it is a vision from our Creator.  It is God’s vision for the world placed in our hearts!  So our longing for it is from God.  It is a holy vision.  Isaiah tells us and his day- don’t run from it-come toward it, let it teach you, let it lead you to extraordinary actions like getting out your tools and turning a sword into a plow!

Christians with vision all around the globe are working to make God’s vision real in their communities.   For example:  In 2003 the Chicora- Cherokee neighborhood on North Charleston SC had the highest concentration of childhood poverty in the state and 85% of all homes were rentals. An after school program sponsored by community development corporation Metanoia recognized that students were constantly moving around and falling behind in school.  “ We knew that we couldn’t really care about the kids in the neighborhood without getting involved in housing work.” Says Bill Stanfield, the programs director. With the help of a grant, Metanoia started buying and fixing houses and helped local families secure and pay their mortgages. Resident began to have a stake in their community as they revived  blighted land, took care of their properties and looked out for each other. Over the course of four year s crime in the neighborhood went down 23 %.  ( “ Fixing up Houses to Keep Families in the Community, Araz Hachadourian,  Yes! Winter 2017 p. 37)

Let’s  let the promise of Jesus coming again inspire us to make God’s vision real as best we are able.

To that end Matthew reminds us to

2.   Stay awake.  Matthew understood that for his people, followers of Jesus in a second generation, the hope of Jesus coming again and bringing the vision of Isaiah to fruition was fading.  He wanted them to keep the vision and find ways to live without anxiety or fear about the future.    He reminds them through Jesus words that we cannot know the when of the future fulfillment of Christ’s coming.  It will come unexpectedly.   So our job is to be awake.  To pay attention to our relationship with God now today.    Jesus invites us to a way of attentiveness to God.

What does that look like for us?   Down through the ages the church has offered various practices to help us be attentive to God.    Regular worship together is one.  Weekly or more worship has been a practice that kept people  aware of God’s presence and word for us.  Still today many of us are here this morning because the music, the liturgy, the prayer together, the reflections on God’s word  “ recharge our batteries.”  Help us stay connected and attentive to God.

Another practice that is meaningful of many of us is personal prayer and devotional time. Whether we do it in the morning or at night or at the traffic stops,  praying to God regularly keeps connected to God’s presence in our lives.    Sometimes we also do this in small groups around the scriptures which deepens our connection to  God through our deeper connections to one another. When we seek God together our  awareness of God is enhanced.

Also, many of us  stay awake to God’s presence through service; practices of feeding the hungry, creating music, visiting the lonely and the sick, caring graciously for children and grandchildren, mentoring youth= all these ways of service and more connect us to God.   Sometimes we find ourselves seeing God in the eyes of someone who is suffering or a child who is learning, or a friend who is welcoming.

I remember one time when I was in college, I began to feel depressed about the state of the world and my own life.  I realized that  I needed to change where I was putting my attention and time.    I wanted to not just focus on myself or even the world’s problems.   So, I decided to help with a swim program for children with disabilities that was happening at the college pool.  That turn to attentiveness to someone else and their needs helped me meet my own.   I don’t remember whether I read scripture or even prayed about my problem, but I know that I turned to that solution because of the practices of prayer and worship and learning I’d had throughout my life as a child of the church, a follower of Jesus.

For finally, we are invited to  be ready for Jesus coming  by  Living with Compassion and honor.   The passage we read in Roman’s today follows Paul’s reiteration of the core value of the Christian life. He tells his people, “ Owe no one anything except to love one another for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” ( vs. 8)  Paul knows and has experienced that compassion , deep caring and love are the core way of Christ.  He goes on to invite them to put aside any other way of living and let the light of Christ, the experience of  Christ’s love empower them live honorably and compassionately.

For Paul this meant turning away from actions which distract us from Christ’s way of compassion.  He knows that if we get involved in drunkenness or quarreling or sexual activities outside of a committed relationship, we become waylaid- our attention is no longer on the way of compassion and love.  He believes that putting on Christ- letting Jesus into our lives and hearts is a good defense from engaging in these distractions.

When we are discouraged about life, when we feel trapped in difficult circumstances, when we experience deep loss,  there is a temptation to cope through distractions and escapes like drugs or  promiscuity or  TV or crabbiness –  well name your poison.   But Paul reminds us that we have a choice.  We can decide because we have Christ  to choose to live honoring ourselves and others whom Christ loves!   For whom Christ was willing to die!   Paul knows this isn’t always easy  and sometimes we stumble- as he did.  Yet, Paul also reminds us that Christ is ever ready to welcome us home!   He affirms later in Romans that there is nothing on earth or heaven that can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord- nothing!

So, when the world gets us down, when we start to feel distracted by temptations to escape rather than to stay attentive= remember  that God is never distracted. Christ is ever by our side.  The Holy Spirit is ever ready to inspire our hearts.     Turn to God and God will help each one of us to

Remember the vision of  God’s way of peace and justice

Stay attentive through the practices that keep us awake to God

And finally chose to live with compassion and honor

Then when Jesus comes again to bring God’s Beloved Community to final fruition- we will be there eager and ready to rejoice and live!

 

 

 

 

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