Hope in the Darkness 12-3-17

Isaiah 64:1-9 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would shake before you! As fire kindles the brushwood and the fire makes water boil, make your Name known to your adversaries, and let the nations tremble before you! When you did awesome things that we could not have expected, you came down, and the mountains quaked in your presence! From ages past no ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen any God but you intervening for those who wait for you! Oh, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways!  You are angry because we are sinful, we sinned for so long—how can we be saved? All of us became unclean and soiled, even our good deeds are polluted. We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. No one calls upon your Name, there is none who clings to you, for you hid your face from us and delivered us into the hands of our sins. Yet you are our mother and father, YHWH, we are clay and you are the potter, we are all the work of your hands. Don’t let your anger go beyond measure, O God, don’t remember our sins forever, for we are all your people.

I love the first Sunday in Advent, probably more than Christmas. It’s the beginning of the journey – the year long journey with Jesus. We finished with last year’s journey with the gospel of Matthew last week. Today we begin a new journey with Jesus in the gospel of Mark. We begin as we sit in the darkness – some of the darkest days of the year. We wake up and it’s dark. We go to sleep in the dark. We imagine ourselves looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. We stay alert watching for a new time, watching for signs of God’s coming.

Mark 13:24-37 “But in those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory;

then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “Take the fig tree as a parable:  as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Promised One is near, right at the door. The truth is, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass sway, but my word will not pass away. “But as for that day or hour, nobody  knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Only  Begotten—no one but Abba God, Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake!  You do not know when the appointed time will come. “It is like people traveling abroad.  They leave their home and put the workers in charge, each with a certain task, and those who watch at the front gate are ordered to stay on the alert. So stay alert!  You do not know when the owner of the house is coming, whether at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows or at early dawn. Do not let the owner come suddenly and catch you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all, stay alert!”

December 3, 2017

Hope in the Darkness

Superman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter (whoever that is), Batman, and Wonder Woman – the Justice League is made up of all the superheroes a 10 year old boy could hope for – all the superheroes from DC comic books. The movie that came out a couple weeks ago got pretty poor reviews, but I heard enough about it that I was reminded that there was a time when I saved my pennies to buy every comic book I could about these characters.

Does anybody else here remember geeking out on comics or superheroes like that? I’m afraid to admit how into it I was way back when. I think there was a longing in my heart for super-powerful people to make things right. I know, in fact, that was part of what was going on. I didn’t even know how messed up things were, but it seemed like we could really use someone who was invincible, speedy, who could handle anything.

Maybe that’s why these superheroes through these films are popular these days again. People are longing for easy answers and all powerful solutions. That’s what Isaiah was longing for. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would shake before you!” He longs for the superhero God he read about when he was little, the One who parted the Red Sea and smote the Egyptians. He chastises God for not taking care of things the way that the God of his youth purportedly did. You feel that don’t you?

We long for that God too! Where was that God at Auschwitz? Where was that God at Hiroshima? Where was that God on 9/11? Where was that God when the tax bill passed this week? there’s plenty of times when you can imagine hoping for that kind of God! Isaiah all the way back then was mourning the loss of the God of his dreams. He accuses that God of hiding. He even blames God for the sinful ways of humanity – saying it’s because God is hiding that people are acting so badly(!)

 

(slow) On this the first Sunday of Advent, we sit in the darkness and notice this hidden God. We look forward to Jesus’ coming. A lot of times we hope for a superhero Jesus, like Isaiah hoping for a superhero God. We’re waiting for Jesus who will make everything right miraculously and immediately. It’s a real, but unrealistic hope. I’m suggesting we turn our hopes in a slightly different direction.

This Sunday, we may learn from Isaiah and Mark a different kind of hope in the darkness, a hope for a God who empowers, rather than a God who is the superpower. I read about a book this week named If the Church Were Christian by Quaker pastor Philip Gulley. He suggests 10 ways the church might move toward being a more authentic, hope-filled witness in the difficult world we live in.

He suggests that 1) we think of Jesus more as a model for living than an object of worship; more honored sibling, than superhero; 2) Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness. 3) The work of reconciliation is to be valued over making judgments. 4) Gracious behavior is more important than right belief. 5) Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.

6) Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity. 7) Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions. 8) Peacemaking is more important than power. 9) We work toward caring more about love and less about sex. 10) Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (eternity is God’s work anyway).

All of these suggestions to me imply an empowering God rather than a superhero God – and there really is an argument in the church about which one we are anticipating and expecting. These 10 suggestions for the way the church could act in the world make a lot of sense to me at the beginning of Advent. And they fit where I see Isaiah ending up in his passage. After hoping for the superhero God, he ends his passage praying to a parent God, the potter who molds the clay. He says, “Yet you are our mother and father, YHWH, we are clay and you are the potter, we are all the work of your hands.” We respond to the love of God not by trying to be superheroes or wishing for superheroes in the world, but by being present to God’s love in the darkness, and being God’s presence for others.

Our awareness of people who are far from home during the holidays, living alone or trying to get back home, our awareness of global migration and the people it effects helps us to be present to folks who are hurting – just like the holy family was as they traveled for the census as they fled to Egypt after the birth. We’re praying especially for people from Haiti today, people who have temporary protective status who are being sent back home. Can we be the church for people who are facing their own periods of darkness? Can we be the church for each other in a hope-filled, God-filled darkness?

You see most religious people, including priests and pastors, lay leaders and regular religious folks – most people still imagine God to be elsewhere, hidden out there somewhere. I think Isaiah and Matthew too, in his way, were starting to shift from understanding God as not “out there”, to understanding God as “in here.’ [Richard Rohr]  God is with migrant people, wherever they are. God is with us in our movement and our stillness. God is molding our lives even now, as Isaiah points to with the image of the intimate image of God as potter and people as clay.

This is what Christians are talking about when we talk about the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with Us, God born into our world – God moving into the neighborhood, as Eugene Peterson puts it. This is what we mean by Grace and Holy Spirit – that God is not elsewhere and heaven is not later. We have to experience this for ourselves. This is what we are looking forward to and this is what we have available to us here and now.

Even today, as we wait, we experience God’s presence in the darkness, and know real grace; we are clay, you are the potter; we know the Spirit; we know what Christians are talking about when they say, here take this bread. Eat, drink and know Christ’s presence – here, now, right here, right now.

Communion Hymn: 3141  Holy Darkness