Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent 3-B, 2014: Welcome the transformation

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, known as Rose or Gaudete Sunday, also known as Mothering Sunday. The word 'gaudete' comes from the Latin and we translate it as “rejoice” but it means 'to welcome and to be filled with joy.' The form of the word is the
imperative, so we are commanded to do this. So no matter what has us weighed down, brokenhearted, angry, frustrated or hopeless, God is commanding us this day to set that aside and open ourselves to be filled with joy – joy that anticipates the saving action of God who comes with great might and bountiful grace to help us; joy that trusts that nothing is impossible with God.

In the third week of Advent we read from the prophet Isaiah. It’s a very familiar passage, probably because Jesus quoted this passage when he read from this scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, and declared it fulfilled in himself. This took place after Jesus’ baptism by John and his 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. So he came back to Nazareth, went into the synagogue and began to teach. When the people heard Jesus declare this Scripture fulfilled in him, they were enraged and tried to drive him off a cliff, but he “passed through the midst of them” and went on his way to begin his earthly ministry – a ministry which fulfilled the rest of what the prophet Isaiah claimed would happen to one whom God has anointed and upon whom the Spirit of God rests.

The identity of the speaker in this Isaiah passage isn’t known, which is significant. Jesus heard himself identified in this passage. I suggest that we should too.

Since we are the bearers of the Spirit of God in Christ, a gift given to us in our Baptism, we too have the Spirit of God resting upon us. We have been anointed in our Baptism and some of us at Confirmation which means we too have been called to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners – just like Jesus did.

Let’s stop and reflect on what this call means for us as individuals and for our ministries at Redeemer today.

Who do we know here in Shelby, NC who is oppressed?

Anyone who has lost hope: the battered woman, child, or elderly person who believes the lies their abuser told them – that no one will believe them, or help them, or even care about them; the person addicted to alcohol or drugs whose life seems to be spiraling out of control into devastation; the gay person whose God-given identity is used by some to harass, shame, even fire them from their jobs; the wealthy person whose self-sufficiency and habit of power mislead them into thinking they deserve or have earned their gifts and that they get to decide how those gifts are used; the working poor trying to do the impossible - raise a family on minimum wage; the person constantly on the brink of homelessness or struggling with chronic food insecurity or real and present hunger; the people in our country who witness the deaths of unarmed men of color and wonder if Dr. King’s dream will ever be our reality. To these, God calls us to proclaim the good news of God’s bountiful grace and mercy and God’s readiness to help and deliver us.

Who do we know who is brokenhearted?

Any person who has forgotten, or has never learned, their belovedness to God and to us; and any community that is breaking or broken apart. God calls us to bind these up – to pull together the broken pieces and repair the breaks.

Who do we know who is captive or in prison?

Anyone who lacks the freedom to choose, to live, and to love. There are people in actual jails and prisons, then there are those in a different kind of captivity. We can be held captive by our beliefs, our habits, our expectations, our fears, our insecurities, our memories, and our arrogance. We can be the prisoner of an unethical employer, therapist, physician, family member, or life-partner. Our prison cell can be construct3ed from memories, exile, or discrimination. It is to these God calls us to go, bear the light of Christ to them, and walk with them on a God-guided journey into freedom.

The prophet Isaiah also reminds us that we are called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This is the time of jubilee when all debts are forgiven, when we harvest what we haven’t sown, when relief and rescue are apparent – but it’s only part of our message.

The other part is the day of vengeance of our God. The word translated here as “vengeance” also translates as “to be reassigned.” The prophet Isaiah is describing a process by which God restores shalom, which is the wholeness and completeness of creation as intended by God.

We have come to understand this passage to be about punishment because for those whose gifts of power and privilege are being reassigned, it feels like punishment. It looks like that too to those who are witnessing it. They tend to judge the moments within the reassignment rather than trusting the whole of the transition that is happening.

Shalom is being restored, and for some it will be liberating, but for others it will feel like punishment. God is making all things right again, and refuses to be blamed any more for what we made wrong. By God’s great power and bountiful grace and mercy, everyone and everything that is out of step with God’s will, is already being transformed; and justice and peace are already being restored in our hearts, in our relationships, and in our world. The challenge for us is to remember this truth even in the midst of discord, suffering, oppression, and brokenheartedness.

The bottom line is: God doesn’t hate anyone whom God has made. All people, all nations belong to God and are beloved of God. It isn’t God who forgets that – we do.

So then, we aren’t the only ones who are waiting during Advent, are we? God is waiting too. God is waiting for us to welcome the transformation God is already working in us. God’s waiting must be joy-filled too, because God knows that when this transformation is complete, shalom will be restored. The reconciliation of the whole world to God will be complete. Justice and peace will abide on the earth just as it does in heaven. The oppressed, brokenhearted, and those in prison will know freedom and light – the light of God’s salvation, who is Jesus the Christ.

But that hasn’t happened yet. It’s happening now, but it isn’t finished. And so we wait… with joy-filled expectation, welcoming all God brings to us, knowing we are partners with God in this work, and trusting the process of transformation that was started when Jesus picked up that scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue and said “this has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Let us pray…

Stir up your power and with great might come among us now, O Lord.. We welcome you. We trust you. We love you. We know we put up roadblocks. Let your bountiful grace and mercy… help us to take them down – to take down all barriers between us and you, and between us and one another. Deliver us from all our barriers to Love, so that we may heed your command and rejoice to proclaim your good news to the hopeless, bind up the brokenhearted, and walk into freedom with those held captive to anyone or anything. In your holy name we pray this. Amen.

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