St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Advent 1 2011 Sermon
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Rev. Bonnie Campbell

Don’t make me come down there!  That’s what I thought of when I read the Isaiah reading.  Usually, at that threat, things will calm down.  Yet, in this case, in the Isaiah passage and the Psalm, the speakers are asking God to come to the earth and whip things into shape.  I like Ps. 80:3 from The Message [Eugene Peterson]-“God come back!  Smile your blessing smile: That will be our salvation.”
 
Then, for something completely different, we have Paul.  Again, in The Message, we have I Corinthians 13:7: “Just think--you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale.”  And, from verse 9, “…our Master Jesus….will never give up on you. Never forget that.” 
 
Jesus tells about the return of the Son of Man with the admonition to “Stay at your post.  Keep watch.”  It is a lot of hoping, waiting, wishing and watching.  In Sojourners, Enuma Okoro made some comments about these readings.  “Do we choose to be foolish or wise, living prepared lives or unprepared lives, sleeping through God’s activity or wide awake and ready to join in God’s work?  Every day we choose between life and death, recalling God’s steadfastness, relying on God’s grace, and remembering God’s justice. … God chooses us.  But our choices matter as well.  How do we choose to respond in faith to the life God continually offers us?  What do we worship? … Where do we choose to place our hope? … Often when we hear the word ‘choice’ we also hear the word ‘individual’.  However, to choose wisely means putting our focus on the wider community.”
 
Paul reminded the church at Corinth that they lived a life of Grace--a gift from God.  I’m reminded of our bishop’s practice of thanking God for adding this day to our lives.  We receive so much from God every day and we could LIVE there.  We could live in a world where we look at our gifts and feel good about ourselves because we have them.  “Land, for example, is a gift.  Spiritual knowledge is a gift.  But God’s gifts do not replace God.” [Okoro]  We could choose to worship the gifts we have.  We could choose to cherish the fact that we belong to Christ more than doing the work of Christ.  Christ’s work is about considering what is best for the wider community rather than what is best for me.
 
We are not God--and Isaiah is a good reminder of this.  Isaiah is completely aware about the situation his people are in.  They have become so full of themselves by the gifts they have received, it is as if God no longer exists.  Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and told them how fortunate they were to have the Spiritual gifts they had received from Christ yet, if we read beyond today’s reading, we see that they lose focus.  Instead of encouraging one another, instead of thinking of the welfare of the wider community, they quarrel among themselves.  Paul is reminding them of the grace they have received from God and perhaps how they could practice grace with one another.

In Mark 13 Jesus reminds us to be alert to what is happening around us.  What do the events in the world tell us about ourselves and how we relate to one another?  How do our individual spiritual lives affect our community?  God calls us to consider the wider community in our choices.  Are we doing that?  Do our actions reflect this concern?  Or, do we just pepper spray the people who get between us and what we want?
 
Like the psalmist, we can pray for restoration and mercy.  Then, we can restore relationships and build up the people we meet through encouragement, charity, and giving of our time.  We can be merciful to those we meet rather than pass judgment on who they are and the choices they have made.  We can practice in our own lives the things we ask God to do.
 
Thank you, God, for adding this day to our lives.  I remember a Purdue grad student speaking to a group.  He talked about his daily walk from his dorm to the campus and saying, “What we gonna do today, Lord?”  He was offering the gift of the day to do God’s work--as a partner.  He was opening himself to the possibilities that lay before him.  He was watching for opportunities to answer God’s call in the people he met that day.  Which is what Mary does down at the hamburger stand with the customers there.  She and the grad student are responding in faith to God’s gifts, to God’s call.  He placed his hope in God’s love for him and God’s love for the wider community.
 
How are we preparing ourselves to be the children of God in this place?  When Christ returns will he recognize us as his sheep?  Will we be asleep or awake? Will we have cared for the wider community with the gifts we have received or will we be worshipping those gifts instead of God?
 
This probably sounds as though it is impossible to measure up.  We all fall short. “He will never give up on you.  Never forget that.”  Therein lies our hope on this Sunday of hope. 



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