Archive for November, 2010

1st Sunday of Advent

Matthew 24:36-44; Isaiah 2:1-5


1. Way In

Waiting, by Debra Ginsberg

about her 20-year career waiting tables

“fancy dining clubs, dingy diners. and nearly everything in-between”

read from the book

read from pp. 105-107, 116-117

Conclude with, “A recently hired coworker noticed my despair and shook his head. ‘It’s bad tonight, he said.”

“Like every Saturday,’ I replied”

“…How long have you been doing this?’ he asked”

“Twenty years. I’ve been doing this for exactly twenty years…It’s been twenty years and I’m still waiting.” (Waiting, pp. xi-xii)

First Sunday of Advent

first Sunday in a new year on the church calendar

“Advent” from Latin, advenir – adventus “arrival”

preparation for Christmas

not just “pre-Christmas”

season with its own focus and message

preparation and expectation

proclaim the coming Lord

prepare him room

Comparison of non-Advent waiting


“This, my friends, is not Advent waiting”


Waiting, as in the title of the book I read from

I have never waited tables, maybe you have

But I have seen how hard waitresses and waiters work

wondered how many miles they walk in a day

between dining room and kitchen

reflect on irony of such a hectic job being called “waiting”

2. Tell the Story

If Advent is a time of waiting, it’s active waiting. It’s expectation and preparation. In Advent we proclaim the coming of the Lord, and we make preparations. The reading this morning from Isaiah is about the promised reign of God that will completely transform the way things are.

Nationalism and conflict will be replaced by unity and peace

people “won’t study war anymore”, they will transform their weapons into tools for planting and harvesting food.

In this day, all nations will come to Jerusalem to know the one true God.

This vision seems too far away today.

seems unreachable and shimmers like a mirage

in the light of the news of war and conflict these days.

Isaiah’s vision of peace and satisfaction seems to far away

as people go hungry and homeless

as women and children search for a place to eat or sleep while a nation calls them too lazy to work.

Isaiah’s vision seems to far away when hard-working people try to stretch what’s left of a paycheck after taxes.

true in the early 20th century depression

as it is in the 21st century

fallout still from the sub-prime mortgage debacle


homelessness and hunger

Isaiah’s vision of enough seems unreachable

when those who make too much money are seen as evil

and those who work for a pittance are looked at with disdain

as those who will do the dirty jobs nobody else wants to do.

But that’s the promise we proclaim today.

In this traditional Advent text

the prophet proclaims the day of the Lord.

Isaiah also prophesied of Immanuel, “God with us,” the promised Messiah.

And this is the promise we proclaim as we read and live lives touched by this text.

We proclaim the birth of the Lord, which has already happened.

We celebrate the day of his birth

and proclaim the fulfillment of prophecy,

that he came just as God said he would.

Out of the faith we have in fulfilled promises we proclaim the promise of God’s kingdom to come,

the fulfillment of creation that has not yet come, but has been promised.

So we are waiting. We are waiting for that which has been promised, but has not come, not yet. But we wait with the expectation of those who have seen promises fulfilled, already.

So we wait, somewhere between already and not yet. …Somewhere between Immanuel, “God with us,” and the day of the Lord when we shall beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

So how do we wait? What do we do in the meantime?

We prepare. We make Him room. Our waiting is like the parable Jesus tells in our reading from Matthew. Be sure to pay close attention to what Jesus says here. He is talking about his Second Coming when he says, “about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Every era since the time of Jesus has seen war and unrest that match some of the prophecy in Revelation. …examples of previous events over millennia that coincide with prophecy, and religious fiction about end times … We have enough trouble following the teachings as they are written, let alone when some writer overlays a fictitious narrative on top of the scriptures.

The essential things about the end times are in the Bible, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find them difficult to understand. Remember, God’s plan does not depend upon us understanding or even agreeing with it.

Jesus said that only God knows when that day will come. Nobody else knows, not even Jesus. The answer isn’t written in code anywhere in the Bible or answered in any scriptural riddles. God knows we have a hard enough time following his Word and doing what is plain in the scriptures. Why would God try to trick us with riddles and codes? God’s plan for us is no secret.

Right before his Ascension, Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) That’s what he is saying here, in Matthew’s gospel, too. The time is uncertain, and during those uncertain times the faithful should be watchful and prepare. He mentions the flood, but his focus is on the lack of preparation not the wickedness destroyed in the flood.

In the image of one taken and one left, Jesus points to the suddenness and finality of the coming of the Son of Man. The parable of the thief in the night urges us to be watchful. If you knew your house was going to be broken into at 3:45 a.m. what would your waiting look like? Would you just sit and wait on him to come or be ready, already having called the cops and so forth. Would you wait like me, idling at the door waiting for the alarm not to ring, or like Debra Ginsberg waiting on 4 tables of hungry, demanding, and self-important people?

Be prepared, he says. Wait watchfully. Wait actively.


Let’s remember this Advent is about the practice of preparation – that is, active waiting, which is holy waiting.

Don’t be put off by holy waiting. Don’t think because I call it holy, only a true saint can do it. Holy means “set aside,” as we are God’s people, set aside to live as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we were challenged to make an Advent practice of preparation. To make Him room.


How will we make Him room?

  • Is there anything taking up space in our house that we need to move to make Him room?
  • Is there anything in our hearts taking up space, that we need to get rid of to make Him room?
  • any attitudes that crowd Jesus out?
  • any habits that keep us from making room for Jesus?
  • any old junk lying around from how we used to be that makes it hard for us to find a place for Jesus?

The innkeeper had no room for Joseph and Mary to rest – even with Mary being “great with child”

  • Is there anything blocking our vision that keeps us from seeing Christ in others?
  • anything getting in the way of our outlook that we need to move out of the way to make Him room?

We are the sheep of his pasture and live by his commandments laws and statutes, guided by the law of love: To love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and all our souls, and all our might. And to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember, Advent is not just pre-Christmas. It is a time of proclamation and preparation. Make time for Him, prepare Him room. In a culture where the media wants you to shop ’til you drop in the shopping days they count down for you to Christmas.

Instead of “shop ’til you drop,” won’t you stop and drop to your knees, giving thanks for the good gifts of God, remembering His mighty acts, and pray that His transformative will be done in your life.

Think of this as a time of renewal, to get reacquainted with Jesus Christ. Prepare Him room by keeping the true meaning of Christmas in your heart. Prepare Him room by moving everything else out.

Renew, reacquaint, know the truth, and move the things out that get in the way of Christ in our lives.

How will you prepare Him room?


So may it be. Amen.


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Deuteronomy 26:1-11

1. Way In

Things that spark our memory – for me, smells and tastes are powerful


mimeo paper – remember that smell? – puts me back in 6th grade

perfume and after-shave

Charlie perfume – Jr. High dance

Aramis, my father’s after-shave

Clubman Talcum Powder, Friendly 8 barbershop in BHM


movies in the summer when I was a kid, we got in with bottle caps and ends of Milk Dud boxes

Adolphus made it in a big soup pot on movie night at 910


taste & book combo. – Fun With Dick and Jane

reminds me of learning to read at Jackson Academy, and reminds me of rock candy

mixed memory

good – still love to read

bad – still hate rock candy

taste of peanut butter on a Ritz cracker always makes me feel better

Coke and peanuts

Memory cues

slightest sensation of one of those smells or tastes puts me right back to another place

those memories come from my story/history

my grandmothers presided over the repository of our family’s stories

I remember me and my sisters, asking them to tell us the stories of our parents – over and over

“tell us about the time Daddy got a Mohawk haircut”

“tell us about Momma learning to drive in the schoolyard and getting the car stuck up the side of a tree”

Stories, read over the life of a person carry the memories and lessons of our culture.

We remember these stories from books, and we pass them along to others.

Stories, told over the generations of a family carry the memories and histories of where we come from.

We remember these stories and pass them along

Does your Thanksgiving and holiday tradition bring out family stories?

I hope so

do the wonderful tastes and smells remind you of times before?

or do you have other memory cues?

favorite memories and stories

maybe something new

maybe this is the year for Turducken

what is it that makes you remember?

and when you settle in to recall the best days, what do you remember?

what do you see? who do you see?

Take time to remember – then to give thanks

for all of God’s good gifts of grace and love

Remember and give thanks

2. Tell the Story

Today’s reading from Deuteronomy is a reminder to Israel as they prepare to enter into the land that God has provided for the nation.

a call for them to remember – to stir up rich and powerful memories of who they are and where they came from.

like the memory cues I mentioned before

Deut. reminds us of the power of memory in worship

liturgy “the work of the people”

not simply for going through the motions, but for evoking the memory of God’s might acts through the liturgy of wrship

The history of Israel is given in liturgical form; words are given to them as well as concrete acts.

Through liturgical acts, the community of faith carries the memory of God’s mighty acts and brings to mind God’s continuing activity in their lives.

The Eucharist – sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

reminds us of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ

power of the memory of the meal – the Last Supper

the memory of the bread God gave the people in the wilderness

the very word, eucharist, comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving”

that’s why you will also see the Eucharistic prayer called the Great Thanksgiving

a liturgy of gratitude for the gift of God’s grace

The stories in Deuteronomy are about God hearing the cries of Israel in Egyptian slavery – to them, it was not so long ago

When God delivered the people with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm with a display of power, and signs and wonders.

And these these stories are dramatic enough to have remained in the memory of the people for a long, long time.

The history of Israel is the foundation of the life and identity of the people that it needs to be repeated again and again.

That’s why in the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy, the community of faith receives instruction from God to recite the traditions of Israel “to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (6:7)

do it all the time, and teach your children to remember and do the same

Today’s reading from Deuteronomy is given in the form of liturgy, meant for communal response in worship.

In Deuteronomy, God gave these words to Israel to prepare them to enter into the Promised Land.

Today’s text includes a liturgical creed for the gathered congregation to say, not the priest, but the congregation.

These words were given to the people of Israel call to the memory of the individual worshiper who they were as people of God, and to acknowledge the presence of God in their lives.

This text is a liturgical exercise of worship, not just sounds made as words are read from the page or memorized words repeated at a particular part of the service.

These words are the foundation of the history and life of Israel, and the words are given as a liturgy of remembering and response.

Listen for the words of remembering:

“Today I declare to the Lord that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”

These are words of remembering that the source of the Promised Land is YHWH Elohim – the Lord your God.

These are words of remembering God’s providence.

Then the individual worshiper says, “My ancestor was a wandering Aramean.” Some of your translations may render this word as “Syrian,” and the liturgy continues, “He went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien … and became a great nation … When the Egyptians treated us harshly … we cried to the Lord … who heard our voices … and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm … and he brought us to this place … and gave us this and flowing with milk and honey.”

These are words of remembering; in a few sentences the worshiper has recited Israel’s history.

Beginning with the wandering Aramean, Jacob, and continuing through the settlement in the Promised Land.

These are words of remembering that emphasize God’s grace and power.

These are words of remembering that God heard Israel’s cries, and saved them from danger and oppression in an alien land.

These are words of remembering the history of the people, and words through which the people understand their identity.

Today’s text is an act of liturgy in which the worshipping Israelite remembers who they are and where they come from.

3. So What?

Like the people of Israel, the Christian faith we practice is based on the collective memory of the people.

Our tradition of faith

Our faith is rooted in the saving love of God in Jesus Christ, and in God’s continuing promise of grace.

Our worship is a liturgy of remembering who we are and where we come from.

Our identity is in the story of the Christian faith, both as the community of faith and as individuals.

And even though God’s dramatic acts in history as recorded in scripture are powerful enough to live in memory alone, we come back to this book [indicating Bible].

We leave this book out, with the pages open [indicating Bible on table],

and we open it up and read it day after day. Because it matters.

What’s in this book matters,

and it is critical for us as children of God to remember the mighty acts and steadfast love of God.

It is our liturgy, the work of the people, to remember.

And not only to remember, but to respond.

To act like people who God has saved when we couldn’t save ourselves.

And the proper response to God is gratitude, worship, and celebration.

During Advent we remember what God has done in Jesus Christ.

preparations for his coming, the miracle of his birth, and we look ahead to the significance of his days among the people …

As we prepare ourselves for the glorious Christmas celebration, may we also reflect on our response –

what we should do with our lives, our individual life and our communal life as a church.

May this Advent be a time of celebrating the history of this church, and of praying and dreaming about the new thing God is doing here…

Out of your history and memory of what God has done in your life, where is God calling you today?

What difference has God made in your life?

What memories does Thanksgiving stir for you and your family?

What are you thankful for?

What new thing is God calling you to in this community God is making?

Let us do our best to live into our response.

Remember the Lord your God, and respond in gratitude, worship, and celebration.

So may it be with us. Amen

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Download the PowerPoint for today’s sermon.  If you view it at SlideShare, the animations are all jumbled.  You should be able to see it all when you download and view on your computer.

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Haggai 1:15b-2:9

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

1. Way In

During high school and college years I worked at Bill’s London Transit

There were several stores in Huntsville, AL

one was at Parkway City Mall, it was the newest store

mall built on the site of the shopping center that was flattened by a tornado in April 1974

same year as the Xenia, OH tornado?

The old shopping center was a strip center with a covered walkway on the front

The mall was quite elegant – several “flagship stores”

fountains, restaurants, plants

shop indoors, and there were exercise walkers

typical for malls now, but real cutting edge stuff in late 1970s

There were some who liked the old shopping center better

the mall was too big, impersonal, antiseptic

We don’t always think the “new and improved” is much of an improvement

anything around here like that?

schools, shopping centers, neighborhoods?

we’re not alone in this thinking – it’s nothing new

take Solomon’s temple for example …

2. Tell The Story

Background-capsule history

Solomon, King David’s son, 900 years before Christ

built the temple in Jerusalem

stood for over 300 years

destroyed by Nebuchadrezzer in 586

After Babylonian exile, Jews returned to Jerusalem

built Second Temple on the site of the 1st Temple, 6th Cent., BC

Second Temple refurbished, expanded by Herod in 1st Cent. AD

Destroyed by Romans in 70AD, never to be rebuilt

saw a shop in Jerusalem with a scale model of the 2nd Temple in the window

Sign: “Pre Third Temple Sale, Buy Now Before it’s Too Late”

Haggai speaking to people looking at the 2nd Temple, the “New Temple,” built in the 6th Cent. BC

they were saying it’s not as nice as the one before

looking over the 2nd Temple when he said, “Who remembers how this place used to be? Does this one look as fine as the old Temple?

“You’re saying ‘it is as nothing to you.”

Then he says, “But take courage,”

… Governor Zerubbabel, … High Priest Joshua, … people of the land

“Take courage, says the Lord…

for I am with you

I made you a promise when I led you out of Egypt

My Spirit still lives among you. Do not be afraid

Later on, this place will be even more spectacular than the old one

Once again … In a little while

God’s time

God reminds Israel about his promise over 700 years ago

coming out of Egypt

as Haggai stands before the people,

work is just starting on the 2nd temple

… some 500 years before the 2nd temple would be refurbished by Herod – 1st cent. AD

so we’re talking about over 1,000 years

“in a little while”

This is in God’s time, not theirs

but God says, “Do not fear. I am with you.”

In a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth …

… the sea and dry land

I will shake the nations

and I will fill this house with splendor

the silver is mine and the gold is mine

The splendor to come will be so much more than what was before

and in this place I will give prosperity

3. So What

God spoke to Israel through the prophet Haggai, and God speaks to us

Everything in the world belongs to God

even the treasures stored up and locked away

and God still has the power to shake the earth and the sea

and even our best efforts at holding on cannot keep the treasures out of the hand of God

even the splendor to come in Jerusalem is temporal

the majestic Second Temple, completed under Ezra and Nehemiah

then enhanced and expanded by Herod in the 1st cent. AD

… was destroyed

could it be that the splendor God spoke of was something besides the building?

something God was way more invested in that the stones and sweat that built the Temple?

“Stand firm and hold fast,” says Paul hundreds of years later (in the letter to the Thessalonians)

by this time, false teaching and confusion was afoot

in the newly formed church, at the time of the apostles

some were saying that Messiah had returned and they missed it

but Paul told them not to be swayed or pulled away from these

you are the first fruits of the kingdom

the first ones to know salvation through Jesus Christ

so stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that we taught you

you learned in Jesus Christ

So we should not be discouraged

When our church, our community seems different than it was

the Kingdom of Heaven is not derailed by the shortcomings of humankind

God will restore the world

in God’s own time

remember, in Haggai God says “in a little while I will …

shake the heavens and earth, the sea and dry land

I will fill this house with splendor


is God talking about the Temple?

the Second Temple was bigger than Solomon’s T.

Herod expanded it some 500 years later

The Romans destroyed it in 70AD

and it hasn’t been rebuilt – yet

is God talking about the people?

the “House of Israel” can mean the people (Exo.16:31)

and their fortunes have been mixed over history

but history reveals that the temple restoration and expansion took over 500 years

and then after that it was destroyed

then it’s been almost 2,000 years

and that Temple still isn’t rebuilt

Clearly – God’s time is not our time

and God’s plan are not our plans

and God’s plans do not depend on …

whether the people understand them

or agree with them

In the meanwhile, God’s people are to live as God teaches

remembering the traditions we were taught

Paul says, “by us either by word of mouth or by letter”

that is; the teachings of the Apostles

which are the teachings of Jesus Christ

the Living Word of God

the fulfillment of the law and the prophets

in other words, all we need to know

and these traditions are not the same ones that we create

the scriptures don’t mean that we hang on to all of our traditions – just the ones that Jesus teaches

love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, might

love our enemies

feed the hungry, clothe the naked

look after widows and orphans

make disciples of all nations

share all things as others are in need

other traditions, the ones we make up …

may make us feel secure

and they can be good

but when we find these traditions bind us:

keep us from the work God calls us to …

we must set them aside

so that no one stumbles

or gets closed out

The people of God have always been witnesses to great changes

God has always been at work in the world

… reconciling and restoring

so we shouldn’t be concerned

with what God’s timetable is for us

or even what the details of what God’s plans are

and it certainly makes no difference whether we agree with God

Rather our response, as the people of God:

is to live lives of grateful response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ

we honor God by living as God’s Word teaches

not trying to take it apart with our obfuscations

rather living simply…

as God calls us to community with one another

for it is written:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might, and love your neighbor as yourself.

So may it be with us. Amen

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