I know I didn't post my first sermon, and I'm still not going to, but I do want to share this one. Don't ask me why this one and not the other one. I wrote this sermon for an ecumenical Advent candlelight service being held Sunday December 3rd, 6:30 pm at Unity Temple on the Plaza. It's open to the public, so if you're in the KC area, I hope you come!! My group, the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries, is sponsoring the service and I will NOT be preaching this sermon then. Bill Tammeus, writer for the KC Star newspaper will be giving the meditation.
But for preaching class, we have to have a context for the sermon, so this is what I wrote AS IF I was going to be preaching for the service. I'd love to hear feedback since this is only the second sermon I've ever written. Please keep in mind that while this is all written out, I never read a sermon exactly as I've written it out. I add things and reword things as I go. The scripture passages read before this sermon would be Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36 (which are 2 of the lectionary texts for that day).
Today we begin the season of Advent. It’s a time of anticipation, of watching and waiting. The kids are watching the days go by on their advent calendars, with great anticipation of the special visitor on Christmas Eve and all the presents he’ll bring. Many of us have been watching and waiting for years, but not in anticipation of toys – in anticipation of God’s justice. We’ve been watching the church discriminate against certain types of people – whether it’s about getting ordained, or who can have their relationships blessed, or even who is welcome to become a member of a particular congregation. It could be because of sexual orientation, or it could be because of gender, or it could be because of race or skin color. Discrimination has been a part of our history for as long as the church has existed. We watch all of this, take it in and wonder what kind of a God, or rather, what kind of church does this to people? We watch and we wait.
Those of us who choose to remain in the church focus on the message of hope and justice that we know through the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ. God is not one to leave things alone when they are unjust. Bible stories make this point over and over again. In the Exodus, God delivered his people from unjust treatment in Egypt. The prophets through the Old Testament cry out for justice – hospitality towards the stranger, support of the widow and the orphan, feeding of the hungry, release of the prisoners. God has always been on the side of the outcast – the homeless, the poor, those of a certain race or gender, and the people of the LGBT community. We know that God is with us, that justice is the inevitable outcome as it has been promised for thousands of years. So we wait for God’s justice. We watch the church and we wait.
In today’s passage from Jeremiah we hear the words of the prophet speaking to the Israelite people in exile. Their lives have been decimated, conquered and humiliated by the armies of Babylon – but not just a random act of war. Jeremiah had been warning the people that they had been unfaithful to God’s wishes and that Babylon was an agent for God’s judgment – not unlike the way AIDS was proposed to be God’s judgment on the gay population in the 1980’s. Whether this is theologically sound is a big debate among Christians – does God really cause that kind of suffering? Who gets to name what is God’s judgment and what is simply human hatred? Pastors like Jerry Falwell used the AIDS epidemic as a tool to increase bigotry and condemn those that needed grace and healing the most. A couple of days ago, on December 1st, we had World AIDS Day – a day to remember those people who have fought and lost the battle with that virus. And we remember that there are millions more people with the virus today all around the globe – and that most of them don’t even know they are infected. They go about their lives spreading the disease to others, and more and more people die. Children are left without relatives because they’ve all gotten sick, and people in poor countries are refused medicines that are known to work because governments or cultural taboos won’t allow for education and health care to work. We watch and we wait.
But Jeremiah doesn’t leave God’s people in despair. He now brings a word of comfort because judgment is not God’s last word. Yes, there are certain things that we can and perhaps should be doing. Yes, God is unhappy with us when we push ourselves away from the path of righteousness, but God’s grace and love is always present – judgment is not the last word. Just as the GLBT community rallied together and continues to work for the healing and comforting of those with HIV/AIDS, God and Jeremiah gather in the people and tell them that the judgment is not the end – they will be ok. God’s love is still present, life will go on, and things will be good once again. There is new research every day and new developments make medicines that work better and cost less. Our churches send medical mission teams and open orphanages to take care of lost children. Programs have been developed from within communities struck by AIDS – in Africa, India, and yes, here in the poor urban communities of the US, people are coming together to talk about this disease and work against the fear and taboos that have allowed it to be spread so covertly. We have faith that God’s justice will ultimately prevail. So we watch and we wait.
In the gospel of Luke we read about the signs of the coming kingdom of God. Jesus promises that redemption is drawing near and there are signs all around us as it approaches. Where are these signs? you might ask. Just as Jesus uses the example of the fig tree and points out that the leaves tell us that spring is already upon us, if we look around us now there are signs that the kingdom of God is already among us as well. Fifty years ago, women were just starting to be allowed to get ordained in our church, but we now have multiple women bishops. Forty years ago people with different colored skin had to sit in different parts of a bus or a restaurant. Now figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X are raised up as heroes and great leaders from our past. MLK is even getting a memorial on the national mall in Washington DC. Twenty years ago we were just discovering a virus and disease now known as HIV and AIDS – now we have drugs that allow people to live long lives while still infected; mothers can go through childbirth without getting their children sick. Ten years ago there was no such thing as a civil union or same sex marriage, and now there are states where such things are possible and more soon to happen. In the wake of 9-11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Tsunamis in Asia, people have come together around the globe to reach out to one another and help lift up those who were desperate and tired. But the tricky thing about this kingdom of God – it’s here already, working among us, and yet, it is not yet fully known. The kingdom has been shared with us, glimpses shining through a grungy window, in the life of Jesus the Christ. While we can see through spots, the window is very large and very dirty – even when we clean a spot, it gets dusty again. We’re still waiting for a woman or person of color to be the elected leader of this country. We’re still waiting for a cure. We’re still waiting for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to be allowed to practice the ministry they have been called by God to do in the church. We watch and we wait.
There will come a day when the window will shine, clean and clear – our faith tells us that - but it is not anything that we can bring about on our own. This is God’s work. Jesus tells us that he will come back “in a cloud” with power and glory, and we as Christians look forward to that day. That will be the day that God’s justice will truly reign. Jesus also tells us in this passage today, that we must be on guard and not let this day of redemption come on us unexpectedly. There are so many things that can get us bogged down in this life, but we must remember that there is much more. God’s kingdom may show at any time, and we need to be alert and ready. This Advent season I encourage you to be more observant of those little glimpses of the kingdom that are all around us. Yes, there are gifts to buy and parties to attend, families to visit and politics to debate – this life goes on and this season can be hectic, but there are glimpses all around us. While we wait for Christmas, and the birth of our savior, we have the privilege of knowing that in one sense Jesus has already come and started to bring about great things. Now we watch and wait for the rest.