This sermon was preached on Dec. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.
The texts were:
Isaiah 2: 1-5
Matthew 24: 36-44
A couple of weeks ago I read a story about a young woman, 23, who’s father had died four years earlier. When he was alive, she used to call or text him every day about her day. When he died, she continued these nightly texts. How she had been diagnosed and beat cancer, how she went to college, about her first job, apartment, ups and downs of her life. Of course, she never had a reply and she assumed that these texts were just going to digital void. But these texts made her feel that she was still connecting to her dad, tied into his love that she had known from him while he was alive. On the fourth anniversary of his death, she sent her usual daily update but with a note of how much after four years, she still loved and missed him. But on this night, she received a reply…her texts had not been going into a void but to a man who had been given her dads cell phone number not long after his death. This man had lost a daughter about the same time that this young woman had lost her dad. He began to wait and watch for those nightly texts not knowing if they would continue to come or not. He never responded until that anniversary text, and he doesn’t know why. But he texted her “sweetheart, I’m so sorry that your dad died and that you miss him. My daughter died a few years ago too. If she were still alive today, I would want her to be like you. You are amazing.” They connected in real life, and the man said that the nightly texts are what kept him alive when he felt that he couldn’t go on without his daughter.
He and this young woman, though strangers, were tied together, connected into something bigger than their grief. They both felt left behind and lonely from the deaths of their loved ones and were trying to make sense of a senseless situation. And while, they still didn’t have pat answers, one thing was clear, that they had needed each other and this young woman who thought that she was only sending messages into nothingness, was tying someone into a bigger story of love, connection and welcome. And on the night the man texted back, he included her into a bigger story as well. There is no such thing as strangers or outsiders, only people who don’t realize that they are connected to one another yet for purpose, affirmation and walking together, even if the path isn’t always clear.
I love this story so much as it exemplifies the heart of the good news from God as we enter into the Advent season. We wait and watch for messages from God about Jesus coming to us-returning to finish what was begun at creation. But we don’t like the unknown and waiting much as humans and we grow impatient. In our current culture of immediate gratification, and with all our technology and learning, we think that we should be able to predict an exact time and place. We also want to know who will be included in the coming of God’s kingdom-some people? Which people? Why? Our need to know everything, to think that we can play God and should be on par with God isn’t new, it’s as old as the story from the garden of the first people wanting to know what God knows about right and wrong.
Jesus reminds us that we aren’t God, and that’s a good thing. We don’t know when Jesus will return, not even Jesus knew that when he was with the disciples here on earth. Partially, I think because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when Jesus will come again because we should always be living with purpose and with mission for God’s work, not to ensure that we are not “left behind” but because we already are left behind. All the cultural appropriation of the “end times” throughout history has been based on fear of not making the cut, of not being good enough, of not being included. But Jesus says that’s not how any of this works. The person left in the field and the woman left grinding meal, aren’t excluded from God’s promises, not at all, they are left to continue the work of connecting more and more people into God’s welcome of love, grace and mercy. God needs people, needs us, to reveal these promises all over the world. Maybe through text messages, or maybe in person, merely by our presence.
Isaiah points to the reality that all people will come to God’s house and will be welcomed! No one is left out, all will learn the ways of God’s peace and mercy for the sake of living lives of praise, joy and gratitude for the work that God has put before us all. All people are tied to this story. We may not understand this story fully on this side of the kingdom, and the good news is that we don’t have to. Being tied to God’s story of welcome means that we can let go of knowing all the details when, who and why, and we can focus on being that light in the void, the people who keep awake, not for worrying about ourselves, but keeping awake to see whom God is including and so we can too. Being awake allows us to see people for whom they really are: beloved by God made in God’s image. We can learn from God to love all people-which is more than only tolerance and acceptance but is about relationships. We are to learn peace from God, which is to move beyond our fears of those different from us and work side by side with people for the good of all creation.
War, hatred, divisions, borders, fear are not of God. When Isaiah sees people streaming to the house of the Lord, it means that people will cross geo-political human made boundaries, people will gather with different customs, food, thoughts and rituals. And God will gather them all, judge them, not with anger but with love and trust. God’s judgment of love and peace transforms weapons of war to instruments of cultivating newness, life and growth. God brings life from death and destruction. Our personal weapons may not be ones of guns, swords or tanks but we wield weapons of war and hate with our words, our actions, or inaction and even the bible, the story of God’s unending love, has been used for division and destruction. Keeping awake allows us to see and learn to turn our words to compassion, our actions to peace and inclusion, our scriptures to welcome, wholeness and love. We then can see what God sees, humanity and creation bound together in the God’s promises for peace, abundant life and love forever. We can see that our purpose is to share God’s welcome even when we can’t see the outcome, even when we don’t have all the answers, or can’t understand God’s timing. God sees that we can walk together in the light of Jesus who illuminates our path and reveals that we are all tied to God’s story of welcome forever.
I’m going to invite the children forward to talk some more about this. You wondered when I was going to do the children’s sermon, didn’t you? It’s like our bible story today! What are some of your favorite stories, either books or on tv or a movie? What makes those stories good? There are all kinds of reasons, but often times, really great stories, pull us in and make us a part of the story somehow. We’ve been talking about that this morning and how the bible is God’s love story to us, and how God wants to welcome us and everyone into this story. And when we are a part of this story, it’s so good that we will want to share it with everyone we meet! That’s part of our work here in our lives, to share the story, not just with words, but with actions. It’s sometimes hard to remember that we are tied to God’s story though, isn’t it. We can worry that maybe we’re not part of God’s story or worry that someone else isn’t. But we just heard that we don’t have to worry about that-everyone is included-even if they haven’t heard the story yet. To help us remember this I have these blue ribbons. We use the color of blue in Advent to remember the night sky when Jesus was born and it represented royalty in Jesus’ time-and we know that Jesus is a special kind of king. So we have these blue ribbons that we are going to tie on our wrists to remind us that we are tied and welcomed into God’s story of love and peace for the whole world. I’m going to have you help me hand these out to everyone here and we will tie them on one another and offer this blessing: +You are tied and welcomed into God’s story forever+