Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Our Advent Question

Our texts for this first Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37. You may read them here.

This Advent, I invite you to consider an important question:

What are you waiting for?

We live in a culture where we try to eliminate waiting as much as possible, but somehow waiting remains one of those things we cannot avoid.

We wait in line for those things we desperately need.
We wait for rides to show up that never come...
...and for flights endlessly delayed by forces beyond our control.
Around here, we wait in a LOT of traffic.
We wait for the phone to ring, bringing good news or bad, a voice we long for or a voice we dread.
We have waited--and continue to wait--for justice long overdue to be done.

We wait on tiptoe for the one we love to show up.

As Christmas approaches again, we continue the difficult work of waiting--for justice, for relationship, for the news we are craving, for dreams that it seems will never be realized. Advent is our season not to avoid this waiting, but to live into it--to take time to dig and assess what it is, really, that we are waiting for--yearning for--pleading for, sometimes with patience, sometimes with desperation.

What are you waiting for?

How are you waiting for it?

And why are we waiting in the first place?

Join us this Advent season as we wonder about and wrestle with these things, seeking among the questions the hope, peace, joy, and love for which we so deeply and desperately long.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time to Start Over, Yet Again

Our texts for this Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday are Joshua 24:1, 14-25; Psalm 24; and Matthew 25:31-46. You may read them here.

It's amazing to me how many different calendars we live by. There's the annual calendar that begins on January 1 and runs to December 31; there's the school year calendar, which begins (more or less) around Labor Day and ends sometime after Memorial Day; Birthdays mark the beginning of a new year in our individual lives; most organization have a Fiscal Year calendar, which sometimes starts in July and runs to June; in our congregation, we install new leadership beginning October 1, with terms ending September 30. That's a lot of beginnings, a lot of endings, a lot of starting over.

But that's not all: we come this week to the end and beginning of another calendar by which we are invited to shape our lives: the Liturgical Calendar, the cycle of seasons by which we order our worship. This Sunday, called Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday (to learn more about this lesser known day in our liturgical year, check out this site), marks the final Sunday of our Worship Year. Next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, is the true first Sunday of our new worship year, no matter what our wall and Google calendars say! On this day, we look forward to the day when Christ will be recognized and reign as king over all the nations; next week, even as we continue looking forward, we start to turn our gaze back, back to the days of waiting for Christ to come among us the first time, to be born in the flesh. Next week, we get to start the story of Jesus all over again, hear it all again as if for the first time.

I appreciate the cycle of the church year, the chance to start over and retrace our steps every November/December by going back to the beginning, and even this plethora of new-beginning options in the various calendars we live by because I need each and every one of them--how we need these start-overs! I mean, just look at our text from Joshua--how many times have the Israelites already affirmed God as Lord, affirmed the covenant since they left Egypt? They praised God at the Red Sea, agreed to what God would say from Sinai before God even spoke the first commandment, covenanted with God once the commandments had been given, covenanted with God AGAIN once the Golden Calf worship had torn the covenant apart...the list goes on and on. Yet here we find yet another ending--the end of Joshua's life as leader of Israel--and another time to start over, to begin anew with a serious community promise to serve the Lord and no other God.

The people sound earnest; yet in spite of the pomp and circumstance, more start overs will be needed in the future....many, many more. They will forget...fall short...get confused...get dulled into sleep. They will have to decide again, over and over, who they are going to serve.

And so our texts for this week are good ones for this point in our year. The Covenant making ceremony in Joshua 24 sounds like an ending, but really it's just a beginning--and this is the life we live as well. In the coming days of starting over, may we remember the grace God gives us, over and over and over...may we find the courage and space to begin yet again.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Book, Same Scene?

Our Old Testament text for this week moves us into the book of Joshua--Joshua 3:3b-17--while our Gospel text brings us closer to the conclusion of our year-long commitment to hearing stories from the Gospel of Matthew--Matthew 25:14-30. The Psalm from which our Call to Worship will be drawn is also worth reading--Psalm 107.

After two months journeying with Moses through Exodus and Deuteronomy, a new day has dawned in the life of Israel. For the first time since leaving Egypt, they have a new leader, Joshua. They are about to enter a new land, the land God had promised them as part of God's covenant with them. "New" seems to be the key word here.

Yet...the scene before them doesn't look all that new. To get out of the wilderness, they must cross a body of water--just as they crossed one to enter it. This passage is rife with echoes of the crossing of the Red Sea that we spent time with in Exodus 14, and though this is a different generation than those who made that crossing, they have heard the story so many times that they feel like they were there in flesh. The Jordan River--even in flood stage--will be nothing compared to that crossing, with a whole sea in front of them and an army at their back! They can handle this, hands tied behind their backs.

Joshua can see this confidence among the people. They've lived in this region for a while now--they know the way across this river that has been their lifesource. Heck, some of them actually HAD crossed this river before, at some designated fords that made getting across less than intimidating (see Josh 2:7). They were ready for this; it was nothing they hadn't seen before--they could find their way. was different, and the way was not as obvious as it initially seemed. Thus this crossing begins with these instructions in Joshua 3:3-4: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before."

The Israelites are ready to be independent--to spread their wings and fly, to show all that they've learned. They are ready to not just be wandering, clueless slaves but people connected to a land, charged with decision making and responsibility. And, in some senses, God is ready for them to grow up and be this, too.

But this does not mean that Israel knows where it's going and can leave God's leadership, God's miraculous provision, behind. What lies in front of them may look familiar, but it's a whole new chapter in their story--they are going to need God's presence to guide them each step of the way. Get ahead of that guidance, and the flood waters could very well swallow them up, no matter how prepared and smart and worldly they feel.

New book, apparently new scene, same story. As Adam and Eve tried to ingest God's knowledge, as the citizens of Babel sought to build their own skyscraper to heaven, as the Israelites tried to store up manna for the day God didn't come through, we don't want to admit how dependent we are. But since the scene before us is always new, how can we hope to move forward unless our ever-providing, leading, and knowing God goes first before us?