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

 





Heaven in Disguise
2011-11-18 by Dee Dee Haines

In the author’s note to his readers, Gregory Maguire (The Next Queen of Heaven, New York, 2010) suggests that what he has written is a new genre for his work.  He tells us that he is usually a writer of fantasy (he wrote Wicked), but this is something different.  His observation about his fictional real world (if we can stretch to understand this contradiction), is intriguing.  He writes, “It’s my suspicion that heaven may be both more disguised and more accessible than any other fantastic locale I might choose to write about.”

 

Sometimes when I read Matthew’s story of the sheep and the goats, I find it quite disappointing to hear that even at the end, when everything is supposed to be the very best that it can be, there will be a great division---that judgment means separation.   I suspect this disappointment comes to mind because I understand Jesus to be a man of unity, one body.  And so I wrestle with what is supposed to be the point of the story.  In my mind, it doesn’t make sense that it is a story about a great sorting.  Instead, I hear Jesus speaking about what makes our world so unlike the world that God intended. 

 

In the past when I have preached this text, there is the inevitable portion where the preacher suggests that all we have to do is see the face of Jesus in the prisoner, in the hungry, the sick, the naked.  If we can just do this, all things will be well.  That is easy to say and hard to do for so many reasons.  But recently it came to my mind that maybe the hardest part about seeing Jesus in others comes because it is not our habit to see the “whole of Jesus.”  Could it be that for much of the time, we only see a part of who he is?

 

In the church, we often spend a lot of time talking about a very tidy Jesus.  We see him as freshly bathed and clothed, lounging with his disciples at the last supper scene or sitting with children at his feet.  We can picture him casually encountering the woman at the well for a conversation. We cherish his gentle voice and touch.  And whilst that is a part of who Jesus is, what about the rest of him? 

 

It’s harder for us to remember him in less tidy situations.  We’re not as likely to picture him eating with the poor, resting with others who had no place to rest their heads, or washing miles and miles of dirt from his own feet.  The scenes where his bold speaking of truth to power required tremendous courage and a passion for justice, these images are not as easily accessed in our minds.  But more than anything, the suffering, the deep and painful wounds of not only his body, but also his spirit--- the tender part of him, are not the aspects of his image that we keep at the forefront when imagining him, then, or now.

 

For me, judgment is not about separation, but about liberation.  It is about being freed from being prisoners to ourselves, captured by our brokenness.  If this story is to help us to see the face of Jesus in others, we must firstly see the whole of him---so that when we meet him in others, we can recognise his face.   Wouldn’t that just be a taste of heaven on earth?

 

My sermon title this week will be, “Heaven in Disguise.” 

 

Dee Dee Haines, Isle of Man

 



Thoughts on Readings for November 20, 2011, Reign of Christ
2011-11-17 by David von Schlichten

Scroll down to read my post on ideas related to themes of the day.

Ezekiel 34: God as Good Shepherd. God will judge between the fat and lean sheep. Here, "fat" means those who gain through oppression, and "lean" means those who are oppressed. This passage has parallels to Jesus' eschatological story of the sheep and the goats.

Matthew 25:31-46: The sheep and goats eschatological explanation. It is tempting to respond to this story by trying to determine who is which. Which am I? Am I a sheep or a goat? The answer generally is yes. The point of the story isn't to get hung up on the categories or the end-times. The point of the story is to get us to walk the walk. If we are part of the Church, then we have a calling to help people in need.

It's easy for us to make excuses not to help people in need. "I don't give because I don't want someone conning me, ripping me off." "I don't give because I know that someone else will." "I don't want to interfere because it's none of my business." "I don't want to interfere because I might get into trouble if I do."

It's easy to make excuses, and it's easy to pass the buck. Penn State tragically reminds us of how easy it is to scapegoat, pass the buck, make excuses, and look the other way when someone is in distress. When we do not help a person crying for help, we turn our backs on Christ. 

But Jesus says that we are to minister to the least. By the way, when we help people in need, we help Christ. Want to meet God? Go help someone in need.

All of this relates well to Christ's reign. Christ is not the type of ruler sitting on a throne far removed from the subjects, out of touch. Christ is not a corrupt politician. No, Christ is the little boy crying for help, and Christ is the one doing the helping, and Christ is the one who enables us to be healers of a broken community.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Initial Thoughts for November 20, 2011, the Reign of Christ, Thanksgiving, New Year, Penn State
2011-11-13 by David von Schlichten

On Wednesday, I will reflect on the readings for this Sunday. Today, I am reflecting on salient themes for this Sunday.

CHRIST AS RULER: What does it mean to say that Christ is our sovereign? In part, it means that we are to be servants. After all, Christ's model of leadership is that of servant-leader. He leads primarily by being a servant. We are to go and do likewise.

We can also talk about how Christ the leader succeeds where human leaders fail. Christ, for instance, is not corrupt or out of touch with the people. Christ is not sitting on a throne being a glutton while the masses starve. On the contrary, at least one of Christ's thrones is the cross. Now THAT'S a different kind of leader.

THANKSGIVING: One important truth to lift up is that thanksgiving is not just about words of thanks but a lifetime of thankful acts, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger . . .

END OF THE CHURCH YEAR: You may want to reflect on the last twelve months in the Church and on the joys and challenges to come.

For instance, at my church, this year we have experienced a significant drop in attendance, and no one seems to know why. I could express disappointment about this drop and resolve that we will try to get numbers up in the next year. I could also celebrate the strengths that St. James has despite the numbers-drop, such as our steady, dependable outreach programs.

PENN STATE: The crisis reminds all of us that, when someone is being victimized, it is our responsibility to do something to help the person. The crisis also reminds us of the importance of showing justice and mercy to everyone involved in a crisis. The crisis also reminds us of the special needs of children, who often get mistreated despite the ubiquitous, loud rhetoric about how important it is to care for them. 

What thoughts do you have, either on the readings or on themes for this Sunday? Feel free to send me an email or to submit a post for possible publication here.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





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