First Sunday of Advent 12-2-18 Lk 21: 25-36
The Beginning a New Church Year (2018-2019)
First Sermon of New ULC Pastor, Rev. Sue Schneider
Oh, my word! Here we all are, together at last! [Deep sigh of relief and contentment.] I have to tell you, I’m kind of nervous. I know you have been waiting for a long time for someone who would lead you on the next part of your journey—someone who would inspire you and show you new ways of loving and serving God’s world. Someone who would console you in your anger and grief at the loss of what you thought your next steps would be. Someone who would bring in new faces and bring back old members who have left. And then the offering would double, and who knows, maybe the water would turn to wine too!
To quote FDR’s first inaugural address in 1933, “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” So here goes. I very much want to be that person you have been longing for. I want you to go home every Sunday sighing rapturously about how you heard the Bible interpreted in a way you never had before, how every worship service or Bible study brings your faith to new heights and depths. I want you to go to bed after committee and council meetings feeling that the congregation has never been on more solid financial ground, that all demographics of the congregation and community feel valued and cared for, and that in every way this faith community is living up to its full potential because now I am here.
But the truth is, I am not the Messiah. We may take turns wishing I was, but I need to be clear about this reality. I guarantee you we will each have moments of being disappointed in each other in the months and years to come. But my job here, on this first Sunday of Advent, is to acknowledge that I am not the one you have been waiting for.
But because it is time to speak the whole truth, let me also point you toward the One who was and who is and who is to come. Let me direct your attention toward today’s reading from Luke where Jesus assures us that although everything else in the universe is temporary, the Word of God is not. Jesus IS the Word. He is the one we’ve been waiting for; he promises that one day, all wrongs will be righted and all tears will be wiped away. Whatever else happens along the way, we can cling to God’s eternal promises.
And just what are those promises? There are so many in the Scriptures! You may have favorites, as do I. What about this one? “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”? That’s a promise I never tire of hearing. Or this one: “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” Or this promise made to a dying sinner: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” These promises, uttered by one who was himself the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with us and for us always, do not pass away, no matter who is pastor of this congregation.
So, since Jesus is the Word and his words are eternal, I can relax about not being the Messiah, here to save you. And you can relax about the uncertainties we will face together too. We have One who will lead and feed us, who will forgive us and challenge us, who will grant us both dreams to dream and the strength to live into them. And in God’s great mercy, we have been invited to walk this path together.
In light of God’s promise to bring justice to all the earth, to keep on coming to us again and again, no matter how the powers of the earth and heaven are shaken, let me deliver the message that God’s messengers are often entrusted to share with God’s people: Don’t be afraid. Or as FDR put it in that famous 1933 speech: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Sometimes it feels what is ruling the world right now is exactly that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” The weirdly apocalyptic world we live in seems like what Jesus is describing when he says, ”There will be distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Just this week the news has been filled with earthquakes and famine, hurricanes and fires, and daily revelations of some new horrible human rights violation—not to mention personal struggles you may be facing like financial difficulties, fractured relationships, professional setbacks, or physical ailments, to name a few. It can seem like we have a lot more to fear than fear itself.
But “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” On the rising tide of distress, Jesus calls the despairing people not to turn away, but to look up, to search for a familiar face in the midst of the chaos, one we will recognize instantly: “They will see ‘the Son of [Hu]man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory,” Jesus says. When the world appears to be falling apart, don’t look to your new pastor, nor any other person, but to Jesus, whose promises are enduring and trustworthy.
Together, let’s keep alert and awake for signs of new life budding around us like trees in spring. Let’s point out to one another clues that the kingdom of God is near. Together, let’s pray for peaceful passing for those people and situations that need to die, and vibrant new possibilities for those people and ideas that are just being born. Let’s pray for healing when times get hard, and sing with gratitude when it is fun. Most of all, let’s help each other steer clear of operating out of fear, which only leads into deep darkness.
One way we can do that is to gather regularly around this table, where God nourishes us with the gift of Jesus himself. Let’s pray for each other, lifting up one another’s hopes and hurts to God. Let’s serve the people God so loves, and listen together for how we are being called to participate in God’s dream for this community at this time. As we do these things, we may find that we are no longer WAITING for the kingdom of God to come, like we might wait for a bus to come or a check to clear or the next election to occur. Instead, we may discover that we are BEING the kingdom of God!
FDR asserted in the face of extreme difficulties, in the midst of a Great Depression, ”This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” And this is our truth to speak, frankly and boldly, at this time: God is bigger than everything we fear. God is more compassionate than anyone imagines. And God promises to accompany you and me on every step of our individual and collective journeys. So lift up your heads! The days are surely coming when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled, and there will be justice and righteousness and new life for all! Come, Lord Jesus!
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 12-2-18” name of the sermon.