Called to GiftPosted: November 27, 2016
Called to Gift
SLIDE 8: JUDAH WEAK NATION CAUGHT BETWEEN EMPIRES
Poor Judah was a small weak nation caught between the giant Empires of Assyria and Egypt. The Jews were sort of a back water occupying a mountainous piece of land, and they might have been left alone, except that through an unusual blessing of nature, the hills of Judah and Samaria, if properly terraced grew olives and grapes in abundance. While the river lands of the Tigris and Euphrates and the Nile Rivers grew grain in profusion, they did not produce wine or olive oil. And so poor little Judah was coveted by those Empires. The Jews lived in a heightened state of tension always afraid that foreign armies were ready to invade and take over their country.
SLIDE 9: SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES SPEARS INTO PRUNING HOOKS
In the midst of the international tensions of his day Isaiah the prophet had a vision. In his dream Mt. Zion and the temple of Yaweh would be lifted up and become a shining beacon of peace and justice to all the nations.
Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the
Mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that she may teach us her ways and that we may walk in her paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah had this beautiful vision 700 years before the birth of Jesus, always hoping that human beings could find another way – the way of the Messiah who in Jesus pointed us to the way of non-violent love:
SLIDE 10: TURN THE OTHER CHEEK
Matthew 5: 38 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look, said Jesus: “‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ 39 Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41 And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to show them love. 42 No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 Well I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of love, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.
SLIDE 11: GOD MAKES THE RAIN TO FALL AND THE SUN TO SHINE
This is what God does. God gives the best — the sun to warm and the rain to nourish — to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.”
SLIDE 12: WE BRING THE LIGHT OF CHRIST INTO THE WORLD
As we enter the darkest time of the year in the season of Advent and perhaps a dark time in our nation’s history we are encouraged to hold up the dream of Isaiah and message of Jesus as a light to the world. And how do we bring the light of Christ into the world? Let me start with a story about a children’s sermon.
One Sunday in the middle of Advent during the children’s sermon, the preacher was telling the kids about how the angel came to Mary to tell her about how she would help bring Jesus into the world. One little girl seemed puzzled about this whole scene. Then another child asked what the preacher thought the first thing Mary would have asked for after the angel left her. Instantly this little girl chimed in with “I’ll bet she asked for a little help from Joseph!
SLIDE 13: WE NEED HELP FROM FRIENDS
If we are going to bring the light of Christ into the world we need a little help from others, we can’t do it alone. That is one reason we gather every Sunday for worship. We need to be reminded that we have been given what looks like an impossible task, changing the ways of the world to embrace love instead of violence, and the self-interested survival of the fittest.
SLIDE 14: PHYSICAL THERAPY CLUB
I am reminded of a story from the physical therapy club. As you know several members of our congregation have been in physical therapy this year, and physical therapy is difficult. Our muscles lose their memory quickly, when through illness, injury or stroke we do not use them even for a short period of time. They have to be retrained to work properly. I remember trying to rehab my shoulder the physical therapist gave me what seemed like a real nothing exercise saying, “This exercise is supposed to help the muscle attached to your should blade turn on.” Well I did the exercise for weeks and then one day I could feel the muscle turning on.
SLIDE 15: IF IT WASN’T DIFFICULT YOU WOULDN’T BE HERE
Well another member of our PT club was working with another physical therapist who gave her a task to do, and she complained, “This is impossible!”
Very patiently and gently the therapist replied, “It is not impossible. It is difficult. But if it wasn’t difficult, you wouldn’t be here.”
SLIDE 16: WE ARE GOD’S ADVENT TO HOLD BACK THE DARKNESS
And I think that is sort of the response that Jesus makes, when we complain about working to help the world embrace love. Jesus called the church into being because we all need a little help from our friends. Like when a number of members of our congregation showed up together at the Synagogue to sing, pray, and march to bring peace and healing after the election. And while peace on earth maybe difficult, if it wasn’t difficult we wouldn’t be here! Later in this worship, when we form the circle to share the Advent Communion, so we can look one another in the eye and remember how God has given us each other, so together we might help bring the light of Christ into the world. We are God’s Advent. We are God’s hands and feet in the world to help hold back the gathering darkness of despair.
SLIDE 17: DON’T GIVE UP THE LIGHT WILL RETURN
And let me acknowledge, it is so easy to give into despair, especially this time of year, when the darkness seems to take over our lives. For some of us seasonal affective disorder can threaten to plunge us into a depression that will not end. The promise of Advent is the light will return. Hope is often born in the darkness. Hope is often fragile, vulnerable, like a new born infant born in a cave. Hope is often poor, like peasants who had to lay their baby in a feed trough for animals. Hope often seems powerless, like the Holy Family forced to flee from the soldiers of Herod, who had been sent to seek the life of the Christ Child. So don’t give up. Celebrate this season. Celebrate friendship, love, hope and faith. Even more than Christmas we are a Resurrection people. God will not abandon us. God’s love is forever. Just as Jesus was God’s gift to the world, so now those who follow the way of Jesus are God’s gift to the world.