Sermon for Advent, December 4, 2011
2011-12-03 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on Advent

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, December 4,  2011

Second Sunday in Advent, Year B

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 774)

 

Get Ready to Sing, Part Two

 

            Last Sunday we met forty year-old Marison, who works at a doctor’s office, is married, and is the mother of two boys. She gives thanks for all the blessings she has while, at the same time, feeling lost, empty, lonely. She told her pastor, Pastor Beatrice, about her feelings, and Pastor Beatrice suggested that Marison needed to find her song. That night, Marison awoke from an unsettling dream to find a note in her bathroom written on blue paper and in a blue envelope. The note read, “Get ready. I’m coming. Meet me on Saturday at four o’clock. Love, Jesus.”

            Marison wondered if Pastor Beatrice had somehow left her the note. Who else could have left it? Surely not her husband; he barely knew who Jesus was. The kids were too young to do such a thing, and the handwriting did not look like a child’s. Anyway, why would they leave such a note? What would the motivation be? So Marison found herself thinking that the person most likely to leave a note pretending to be Jesus would be Pastor Beatrice, but what would her motive be and how would she get such a note into Marison’s bathroom?

            “Of course,” Marison thought, “there is another possibility, and that is that Jesus really did leave her the note.”

            She reread the note. Saturday at 4 o’clock. The note didn’t say where they would meet. “Dear God, “she prayed, “help me to make sense of all this and to know what to do.”

            During her lunch hour that day at work, she called Pastor Beatrice and told her what had happened. Pastor Beatrice asked a few questions and then said, “Hm, it may be a joke. It may be real. I don’t know, but, if I were you, I’d sure keep my eyes and ears open on Saturday at four.”

            On Friday, Marison sat in her living room and stared at the note. She thought about getting ready to meet Jesus. How does a person get ready to meet Jesus? She pictured John the Baptist wearing his camel’s hair, standing in the wilderness yelling for people to repent. Baptism. Repentance. Getting ready.

            “How should I get ready for the coming of Jesus?” Marison wondered as she petted her cat, who was sleeping on her lap. She admired the cat’s beautiful coat, which had a bluish tint. Getting ready for Jesus. John the Baptist teaches that part of getting ready is repenting, so Marison started thinking about her sins, what she does wrong, what she could do better. “Sometimes I swear. Sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes I eat too much.” She asked God to forgive her and to help her do better. “Please, God, forgive me,” she prayed, and then she heard an inner voice, “Because Jesus died for you, I forgive you. You are one of my baptized children.” Marison pictured John baptizing people and gave thanks for her own baptism, for the cleansing waters of Christ washing away her sins, no matter how severe they were.

            Marison closed her eyes. She thought, “When I meet Jesus tomorrow, I’ll just be open, honest. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I’m not perfect but that I’ve repented and am ready for whatever.”

            Meanwhile, about five miles away was a man who was about twenty-five. He was grimy, with long, greasy black hair that had some streaks of gray already in it. He had a beard to match his hair. He was lying in a refrigerator box, where he was to spend the night. His name was Vic, and he was known throughout town for being insane. Kids often made fun of him. Adults often crossed to the other side of the street when they saw him coming. He smelled of body odor and old clothes, and he seldom talked. People gave him money so that he had enough to buy food and cigarettes. The rumor was that his parents lived nearby but that, because of his paranoid schizophrenia, he refused to live with them or anyone else.

            On Friday night, while lying in his refrigerator box, Vic was staring up at the stars when he heard a loud voice say, “Victor, this is Jesus. Meet me in front of Wal-Mart tomorrow at 4.” Vic sat up. “Jesus just told me to meet him at Wal-Mart at four tomorrow!” he whispered.

            The next day, at 3:50, Marison realized that she was out of milk, so she got into her blue car and drove to Wal-Mart. On the way, she thought, “It’s almost four. Am I about to meet Jesus? Am I going to meet Jesus while buying milk at Wal-Mart?”

            [To be continued.]






Everything In Its Place
2011-12-01 by Dee Dee Haines

My favourite thing about John the Baptist is his consistent ability to get over himself.  Okay, so he’s a little freaky in his dress and diet, but the ministry he undertakes, the life that he leads, points to Jesus---and who Jesus is.  It’s never about any kind of self indulgence.  Wouldn’t it be so helpful if we could do the same? 

 

Sometimes I think about how many church meetings I attend that are focused on us.  We spend hours, days and months, wrestling with the tiny details of community that, in the big picture, have little to do with what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ.  Do we like the colour of the carpeting that is to be installed?  Did we sing our favourite Advent hymn?  Who’s been sitting in my pew?   Is the pastor saying what we want her/him to say?  Are we pre-occupied with our numbers in a time of decline?  Did the sign out front advertise what we wanted to advertise?  It seems to me that we spend an enormous amount of time and energy indulging our own wants and desires. 

 

This is not true for John the Baptist.  What he says, what he does, it all points to Jesus. His invitation asks us to get things in the right order.  Sort.  Prioritise.  Get things in their proper place.  We hear him say, “Prepare the Way.” The reference to “the Way” is another clue that points to Jesus who later tells us, “I am the way.”

 

In his “Message” interpretation of the parallel text in Matthew, Eugene Peterson puts contemporary words into John’s voice.  Change your life.  God’s kingdom is here.  Turn your old life in for a kingdom life. (Paraphrase from The Message:  The Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene Peterson, Navpress Publishing Group, 2002).

 

We are left with some questions.  What does a “kingdom life” look like? How do I trade in my old life for this new model of living?  What keeps me clinging to a life that is not sorted, prioritised and pointing to God?  If a “kingdom life” is as close as our breath, hanging right there in front of us, waiting to be claimed, what keeps us from stepping into that reality?

 

The answers to all of these questions will be as varied as we are.  But here’s the thing.  I suspect that deep down we get it, but on the surface, we are convinced that we really don’t need this new way.

 

Covenant living calls us into accountability and we’re not always so open to that kind of scrutiny.  We totally miss the invitation for freedom and liberation from those things that whisper false truths into our ears.  The voice of Empire and Consumerism never sleeps.  So, if we are fooled into thinking that we don’t need to live in covenant with God and with community because we are well equipped to make it on our own, we won’t do it.  We won’t actively choose something that we think we don’t need.  It may be helpful for a preacher to ask a question, “At this very moment, as we propel ourselves through a season of preparation, what is your greatest need?”

 

Perhaps if we are a little less self indulgent, and a little more focused on Jesus in our midst, we might be more inclined to put things in their place, to prioritise.   We might be able to discover our real needs, and let go of those things that distract us as we travel with Jesus on the Way.

 

Dee Dee Haines

Isle of Man





Initial Thoughts on John the Baptist for December 4, 2011
2011-11-28 by David von Schlichten

Isaiah 40 and Mark 1:

Isaiah 40 speaks of comfort, but the voice crying out is, in Mark, associated with John the Baptist who is, well, not generally associated with comfort. He is wild and associated with this angry exhortation to repentance. So, uh, where's the comfort?

When parishioners hear the call to repentance, they tend to fixate on their sins and God's wrath. However, John the Baptist is calling us to repent BECAUSE Jesus is coming, and Jesus, on the whole, is NOT angry. No, he is patient, gentle, merciful. Yes, we are to repent, but the repentance prepares us to receive primarily, not Christ's wrath, but Christ's mercy. Hence, the comfort.

BEING JOHN THE BAPTIST:

How are we John the Baptist? How do we function as voices crying in the wilderness for our communities, including the global one?

What thoughts do you have? Feel free to email me or to submit a post for publication here. You can email me through goodpreacher.com or by using my personal email, drdlphn@yahoo.com. You also can text me at 724-757-6695.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectinonary Blog Moderator





Sermon on Advent for November 27, 2011
2011-11-26 by David von Schlichten

 

Sermon on Advent

for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church,

Youngstown, PA

with Sunday, November 27,  2011

First Sunday in Advent, Year B

with the Reverend Dr. David von Schlichten

(word count: 758)

 

Get Ready to Sing, Part One

 

            Marison woke up. “It’s ok,” she thought after a few seconds of lying frozen, listening to her breathing and her heart. “It’s ok. I’m ok. It was just a dream.” Ever since she had turned forty the previous month, she had been having difficulty with sleep. Sometimes she could not sleep at all. Other times, she’d fall asleep but then wake a few hours later from a disturbing dream. In the dream she wandered the streets of a vast suburb, where there was no color; everything was black and white. There were no people. Just a cold rain. The emptiness and vastness of the suburb made her heart pound. Then she’d wake up.

            Later that morning, at church, during the sermon, she prayed silently, “God, help. I don’t know what’s bothering me. Please.”

            After worship, she shook hands with the pastor on her way out the door.

            “How are you, Marison?” the pastor asked. The pastor seemed to be studying Marison’s face, as if she could tell that something was wrong.

            Marison smiled at the pastor and said, “I’m fine, Pastor Beatrice.”

            Pastor Beatrice stared at her and said, “Really?”

            Marison wanted to cry. Instead she laughed. “Absolutely. Never better,” she said and hurried out the door to her car with her two children, eleven and eight, following her.

            At home she made lunch for her, her husband, and their two children. They talked about nothing in particular. She mentioned getting started on Christmas shopping. He mentioned going hunting. The kids were picking on each other. She told them to knock it off. She wanted to say, “I don’t want to celebrate Christmas,” but instead she said, “It’s gonna be a good Christmas.” He grunted in agreement. The kids threw food at each other.

            The next day, she went to work at the doctor’s office. She smiled at the patients, did her job. At lunch, she went to Wendy’s across the street with her girlfriends from the office. At four-thirty, she went home, made dinner, spent time with her family. The next day, she did all that again. The next day, she did all that again. “Same stuff, different day,” she thought.

            “I have a lot to be thankful for,” she kept telling herself on Wednesday afternoon after work as she walked through the mall in search of gift ideas. “I have so much to be thankful for.” She thought, “Thank you, God, for my husband, my kids, my job, my health, my house, my food. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She stood still in the mall and looked around. So many people shopping. Her heart felt heavy. She thought of the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” “Ahhh, look at all the lonely people.”

            That evening, she made an appointment with Pastor Beatrice.

            The next afternoon, after work, she sat across from Pastor Beatrice in her office, the pastor’s hazel eyes taking her in.

            “So what’s wrong?” Pastor Beatrice asked.

            “I don’t know,” said Marison, and she started crying. She told the pastor about being thankful for her life but also hating it. “I feel so . . . . asleep, lost, empty, and I feel guilty for feeling that way.”

            Pastor Beatrice listened and then finally said, “You know what Thoreau said back in the eighteen-hundreds? He said that most people lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. Does that make sense?”

            Marison gasped. “That’s incredible!” she said.

            “So maybe what we need to do,” added Pastor Beatrice, “is figure out what your song is.” The two of them prayed, and Marison’s assignment was to think about what her song might be.

            That following Sunday, during worship, Marison pondered the season of Advent. She noted that Advent emphasizes getting ready for the coming of Jesus. Wake up. Get ready. Jesus is coming. John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness for people to get ready. Mary is pregnant, getting ready for the birth. Get ready! Wake up! Jesus is coming!

            After the service, when she shook Pastor Beatrice’s hand, Marison said to her, “Maybe singing my song has something to do with Advent, with getting ready for the coming of Jesus.”

            Pastor Beatrice said, “There’s no maybe about it.”

            That night, Marison had the dream again. She awoke. She got up to use the bathroom. She noticed on the sink a blue envelope addressed to her. Inside was a note. It said, “Get ready. I’m coming. Meet me on Saturday at four o’clock. Love, Jesus.” [To be continued.]






Initial Thoughts for November 27, 2011
2011-11-20 by David von Schlichten

Advent is about preparation for the Comings of Christ, future, past, and present. The readings for this Sunday focus on the Second Coming.

People tend either not to care about the Second Coming or to obsess over it. A wiser, more biblical response is to be ever vigilant but not afraid. Yes, the End will come, and it can come at any time. However, we need not fear it, because Christ has saved us.

How do we help people to be vigilant but not afraid? Perhaps the key is to help people be mindfully loving. We are to be mindful, meaning attentive, ever appreciative, and we are to be loving, meaning engaged in loving words and actions.

What do you think? What should we preach in early Advent?

I'll have more on Wednesday.

Thawing turkey, I am 

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

 





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