Sermons

1 Samuel; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

 

To listen to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, one could imagine Jesus saying those very words to us, about the world which we currently inhabit.

 

I can hear him say, there will be gun violence, and wildfires, there will be floods and global unrest, this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

 

Jesus, in talking with his followers about the signs of the coming of God, makes a correction that is so subtle to our ears, it is easy to miss.

 

The wars and the famines of Jesus’ day were seen as God’s judgement.  If you wanted to know where God, or the God’s were present in the world, you simply need look for where God’s wrath was being exacted.  

 

If you wanted to know where God was moving in the world, look to the earthquake, look to the famine, look to the wars to see who lost.  Those places are where God’s judgement could be seen, where God’s presence could be felt.

 

But Jesus shifts the focus, and changes the narrative.  

 

 

Jesus teaches his followers, that, if you want to see God break into the world, look to what happens after the earthquake, what happens after the famine begins, look to how nations and kingdoms resolve the conflict that has arisen.

 

These things, Jesus argues, are not signs of the arrival of God in the world, they are the birthpangs, the labor pains, the precursors to God’s arrival in the world.

 

It makes me think of that quote from Mr. Rogers that often gets circulated after a tragedy.  

 

He said, “"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

 

Too many of us have been taught and internalized that the horrendous things in the world, and the painful things on our hearts are somehow God’s revelation to us of judgement.  That God reveals God’s self to us in the form of natural disasters or destructive relationships.

 

But Jesus is arguing something quite different.  Jesus is saying that we live in a natural world where hurricanes will happen.  They do not happen in certain areas because the people who live in those areas deserve it, they just happen.

 

And we live in a natural world where cells divide sometimes unpredictably, and the intricate network of organs that are our bodies sometimes fail.  Not because the person who inhabits that body deserves it any more or any less than anyone else.

 

And we live in a natural world, full of broken hurting people who will do evil things not because the targets of their hate deserve it, or because God’s judgement demands it, but because they are broken and hurting.

 

All of these things happen.  They just do. But these are not the presence of God in the world, they are the birthpangs, the labor pains, the growth pains to the presence of God in the world.

 

God is in the meal shared, the healing offered, the barriers broken. God is, as the blessing suggests, in the work for justice, equity and peace born of anger at the injustice and oppression of the world.  God is in the hands reached out, changing pain in to joy, born of the tears shed for those who suffer.

 

There is only one place to look for God in the world, and it is where Love is being born.  For, as the Presiding Bishop so often likes to remind us, “If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.”

 

Today, in our extended celebration of the Advent season, is the Second Sunday of Advent.  And this Gospel reading helps to frame the answer to the question Elise posed last week, as Christmas approaches, just what are we waiting for?

 

Are we waiting to remember something that happened once, some two thousand years ago, and life will return to normal once the presents are unwrapped and the decorations packed backup?

 

Or are we willing, are we able to see the pain in the world, and the pain in our own lives, as the birthpangs leading to something more.

 

Might we be waiting, this Advent, for God to be made manifest among us once again, born out of our longings, born out of our pain, born out of our anger and our tears, born of our desire for a world where peace, and justice, freedom and peace reign.  

 

I have been deeply moved by the testimonials given this year as part of our Fall Pledge Appeal.  Barbie Maniscalco, Staci Hopkin, Fred Meuhter and, last night at the Harvest Dinner, Linda Cutting; each of you have been so gracious, so generous in sharing your journeys with and toward God with us.  I am so grateful.

 

Each of them shared something of what Jesus was trying to teach his followers.  What Fred Rogers was telling the children who watched on TV; what the Presiding Bishop is hoping we we will internalize.

 

Each of our lives brings challenges that are unexpected and sometimes beyond what we imagine we can shoulder.  Sometimes those challenges are in our own lives, sometimes in the lives of those we love, sometimes in the lives of those from another part of the world we have fallen in God’s love with.

 

And each of them shared how this place, somehow, with all of our imperfections and shortcomings, somehow this place still managed to be a place where life’s pain became the birthing of love.

 

That we are invited by God, that we are welcomed in Community that we are connected to one another in Christ, none of that means anything if we do not see that invitation, that welcome and that connection as the beginning of something more, not the destination.

 

We are invited, we are welcomed and we are connected so that the earthquakes, the famines, the wars, the violence, the hate and the despair in the world and in our hearts might not be the last word.

 

We are here for nothing short of giving life to the Love of God.  That Love, alive in the world, is the thing for which we wait this Advent.  And you are the one God chooses to bear that Love.

AMEN.  

 

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

 

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