SERMONS

Advent, the first season, the new year of the Church, has begun! Happy New Year! Advent looks towards Christ’s birth, but also towards the second coming of Christ at the end of all days; when the holy narrative begun with Christ’s humble birth and expressed most deeply through Christ’s humble death and triumphant resurrection will be fulfilled as Christ comes to set all things in order by love.

As this Advent season begins, the liturgical color changes to blue, we light one candle to watch for Messiah, and we move from having read mostly in the gospel of Matthew for the past year to mostly reading in the gospel of Mark in this new year as foundational scripture support in our faith journeys as individuals and as a community.

I may have told some of you this story before.

I was standing at the front of the sanctuary at the church where my grandmama’s funeral was taking place. I had been crying all through the worship service (understandably), but somehow as I stood up, and then walked forward to sing a solo, my tears parted like rain pulling back to give a brief reprieve during a long storm.

And then, as I was singing, pouring out my heart to God and in memory of my dad‘s mother; my grandmama who used to tuck me in at their house when I would stay overnight, and then as she left the room, wind up a ballerina music box that played itself out into my dreams; as I was singing there at my grandmama’s funeral a most extraordinary thing happened.

To understand the joy into which we are being welcomed by God in Christ, we may need to better understand the nature of God’s judgment.

Judgment. That word “judgment” may, to our modern ears, evoke images of harsh and negative punishment for misdeeds. Judgment from the courts, politicians getting their due, children being reprimanded for straying off course.

Now, when reading and hearing chapters 23-25 of the gospel of Matthew, which taken together are referred to as the Judgment Discourse, we might be tempted to be fearful as we consider the end of days and God’s judgment that will accompany them. Yet such a reaction could cause us to miss Matthew’s invitation to faith-filled and just living by, with, and under the promises of God fulfilled through Christ. This is actually the intent of our dear pastoral Matthew, encourager of Christian communities and writer of one of the four gospels. For, in fact, by Christ’s work we are not doomed to fear, but welcomed into faith and invited to enter Christ’s joy.

It’s been a long week this week, hasn’t it?
It’s been a long week amidst a long, seemingly never-ending election cycle, hasn’t it?
It’s been a long week amidst an ever-longer, ever-stretching onward, seemingly never-ending pandemic, hasn’t it?

And all of this challenging, difficult terrain amidst lives and a world that was already full of challenges, full of running from a lion only to find a bear, searching for rest and only finding snake bites, to use phrases from the prophet Amos.

Where’s the comfort, dear prophet Amos? Where is the reminder that all will be well?

This is a radical message from Jesus to us on this Reformation Sunday: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Or to quote Jesus’ fuller response to the Pharisees question of which commandment was the greatest; to quote Jesus’ fuller response, which is actually itself a quote from the book of Leviticus and a quote from the Book of Deuteronomy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”