SERMONS

The apostle Paul, writing to the fledgling Philippian Christian community from where he was in jail, sent these beautiful words that we heard this morning:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:4-7)

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I am thinking about how, some years ago, a group of us from Redeemer – organized by one of our confirmation youth – joined in an Anti-Racism event here in New Paltz; proclaiming that Black Lives Matter and God’s righteousness calls for things to continue to change in this world, so as to bring justice and equality for all people.

I am thinking about how, in the years before the pandemic, we had begun to have a church picnic and training event that led us down the street and into the world to march in the Hudson Valley Pride Parade, proclaiming that the Christ through the Church welcomes and loves all people and repents of the ways that human sin has gotten in the way of that clear message in the past.

I am thinking about how we are gathering in food and Christmas presents today and blessing them, then sending them to help three families in need, proclaiming that all people deserve to live with dignity and plenty.

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Who, when things are at their worst, thinks to rise up and stand ready for all the good that is to come? To rise up with hope?

Yet that is precisely what the writer of the gospel of Luke suggests in this passage. Famine, war, trials and travails? Fear not, my fellow people. Instead rise up and get ready. “wake, awake for night is flying!” Get ready for the arrival of newness, the arrival of Hope, the arrival of the wellspring of all things.

Wait now…just a second. How can we be hopeful when, as my great-hearted but somewhat foul-mouthed great aunt used to say, “the world is going to hell in a hand basket?”

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Thanksgiving, and the entrance into the Advent and Christmas season (starting next week already!) can be full of joy, but it can also be a lonely and challenging time for many.

Some years ago, when a woman named Wanda Dench was trying to reach her grandson, to invite him to Thanksgiving at her house, she accidentally texted a stranger named Jamal Hinton instead. When the truth of what had happened became clear to Wanda and Jamal, and it furthermore became clear that Jamal had no place to go or be on Thanksgiving, they agreed that Jamal should join Wanda and her husband Lonnie for the home-cooked meal being prepared. Six years later, their tradition of gathering together on Thanksgiving is still going strong.

Truth, alongside a little courage and healthy risk-taking set the stage for these strangers to build new relationships and a new tradition that has deepened their respective lives. Truth.

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What really matters? With what should we be preoccupying ourselves? What really matters in this life and beyond?

This passage of Mark’s gospel that we heard today was either written just before or just after the Jewish-Roman war of 66-70 CE, in which the Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed. Which means that the stones that Jesus and the disciples are looking at in today’s story are just about to be thrown down, or have just been thrown down. Which means that at least part of the gospel message for those who first heard these words from Mark, and for us who hear them today, is to remember that even when the places and things of our lives and this world are destroyed or being destroyed, that is not the end of the story. Difficult and challenging and full grief, yes. But not the end of the story.

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