Tag Archives: Advent Week 3

Sermon 11 Dec. 2016 at St. Timothy Lutheran, Norfolk, VA

Text: Matthew 11:2-11

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

In 2009, I had my answer to that question: the one had come.  The circumstances were right, the pieces in place, my hopes and the hopes of those I was living around were going to be fulfilled: Brett Favre had come out of retirement to play Quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.


At the risk of any Packers fans out there throwing stuff at me, let’s take a trip down memory lane to 2009: the Minnesota Vikings had a good defense and a solid offense with superstar running back Adrian Peterson. Preseason experts had picked them to be solid contenders to win the Super Bowl…..if the Vikings signed a great quarterback.  That’s when ol’ number 4 came out of retirement and Vikings fans everywhere thought: this is the season we finally win one.  Brett’s the one.  And it played out that way: the Vikings went 12-4 and made it to the NFC Conference Title game, one step away from the Super Bowl……and they lost.  Apparently Brett wasn’t the one, and Minnesota fan are still waiting to this day.

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Sort of an odd question for John the Baptist to have his followers ask Jesus in this morning’s text.  This is the same John, who in Chapter 3 of Matthew’s Gospel baptized Jesus at the Jordan River, witnessing the heavens opening and the booming voice saying, “this is my Son, my beloved, with who I am well pleased.”  In fact, before all that happened, John recognized Jesus as the One, the long awaited Messiah, questioning whether he should be baptizing Jesus at all.  This is the same John who has witnessed and heard about Jesus’ miracles….yet he asks his question: are you the One?  Jesus reassures him: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor receive good news.  Yet, I wonder, why ask the question at all?  I can imagine that being thrown in prison, John had his doubts.  We’ve heard that sermon before; Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they expected.  He wasn’t a mighty king, a military leader, or even a prophet.  Yet knowing that, there John sat in prison, waiting for his death.

Some 2000-plus years later, I wonder if we’re like John the Baptist.  We’ve been waiting for a long time, and while we know who Jesus is and we come here proclaiming our faith in him, are we any closer to the Kingdom of God?  Is life and the world any closer to be transformed?  It seems…the blind are still blind, the lame are still lame, people still don’t listen to each other and well, the poor are not just with us, but seem to be increasing in number.  And those who know Jesus….if you checked the news this morning you saw a Coptic Christian church in Egypt was bombed, killing at least 25 people.  Yes, in the world and in our lives….it doesn’t seem like much, if not anything, has changed at all.

So in this season of Advent, what exactly are we waiting for?

Back to the news….you may have noticed it, but the trial for Dylan Roof began this week.  For those who don’t recall, Dylan Roof was the young man who a year ago last summer walked into Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC where a group of people were holding a bible study.  Roof sat down with the group for 45 minutes, saying little….and then pulled out a handgun and shot every person in the room, killing nine of them after it was all said and one.  He shot them…and then we calmly left the building until he was caught.

During his interrogation with the FBI, Roof calmly and coldly described how and why he killed the people at Emmanuel that day.  Dylan Roof, who was white, and his victims, who were black.  Dylan Roof, who grew up and was a member of an ELCA congregation in Columbia, SC.  I have to admit I find the whole event beyond just tragic.  It’s disturbing and horrifying.

My wife Kelly and I were discussing the trial this week, but not so much of whether or not Roof was guilty – it is obvious to us that he’s guilty – but whether or not he should get the death penalty.  My wife and I both agreed that Roof should be put to death, and sooner rather than later.  Our rationale was what value would there be in putting him in prison for life, wasting tax money? And what value would there be in an appeals process since he gave his confession?  It was a bit surprising, considering that my wife is much more compassionate and progressive than I am.  But what I think was more surprising was what I saw in myself.

It’s hard to say this, but that scares me.  It scares me that I could so easily condemn someone to death, and completely rationalize it with little struggle.  It scares me when I really examine and look into my own heart I find it so easy to harbor a feeling so dark towards a person who is flesh and blood just like me.  I don’t want to debate the use of the death penalty and I don’t think there’s no consequences for what Dylan Roof did and the ongoing problem we have with race in our nation.  I just think, whether it’s Dylan Roof or the people at Emmanuel AME or whoever I so quickly judge and place in categories, maybe I’m the blind one, the lame, the deaf, and the unclean.  Maybe I’m the one who like John is in prison…..and like John I’m in need of the One who can liberate me.  I am in need of a Savior, because the truth is, I need saving….from myself.  And maybe when you examine your own heart, it’s that way for you too.

Perhaps the season of Advent isn’t simply waiting and celebrating a baby born over 2,000 years ago. Advent is waiting – no, longing – for the One to come and transform us.  We long in the deepest parts of our soul to have our sight restored, our ears opened, and for a light to shine in the midst of our darkness and our world’s.  We long and we hope beyond all hope for the One to come who shares our humanity and who is our joy….so that we might know our humanity worth saving, the categories and judgments we pass on each other so easily do not overcome us, but that the One we have been waiting for transforms us RIGHT NOW.  Amen.



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Sermon 14 December 2014: “Isaiah 42 & the Promise of Despair.”

Text: Isaiah 42:1-9

It was back in 2003, and we were headed out on pre-deployment workups. We were getting underway to go to Groton, CT to do work in the navigation and tactical trainers, one of the many certifications we needed to get in order to deploy later that fall. I had duty that night before, and early that morning one of the enlisted sailors in my division, one of my second class petty officers, asked me if he could go home to grab a couple things he needed before we got underway later that day. He had duty too that night before, we weren’t getting underway until closer to noon that day, and he lived in government housing 5 minutes away. I thought, “why not?” and granted his request.

About 45 minutes later, after I was relieved from duty and headed off the submarine to grab a few things myself…..and I saw my second class petty officer coming back to the boat, nothing in hand. As I got closer, his face was blank and pale….I asked him, “You get what you needed?” And he replied, with little expression, “Nope…..it was kind of hard to think about that after I caught my wife in bed with some strange guy.” And he walked right past me back onto the boat.

The hard part was that we needed to take him underway with us, because he was a vital part of our navigation and battle stations team. That was hard for me and many of the guys onboard, because we felt it wasn’t the right decision. He should be at home getting help, fixing his marriage.
But I think the hardest part in taking him underway is that was knew he was in shock, we knew he was suffering…..and we had to see that constantly. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 500 feet below the surface, in a metal tube a 100-yards long and about 36 feet around, we couldn’t avoid it…..we couldn’t avoid him. His suffering….his numbness, his silence, the blank stares…..his despair, was right there in front of us.

Our passage from Isaiah 42 is a classical Advent passage…..a promise of a suffering servant. And most Christians interpret this person to be Jesus Christ, who does indeed suffer for the world on the cross to establish justice, peace, salvation…all that stuff. But I guess what’s caught my attention was the images in verse three. A bruised reed, a dimly burning wick. When I hear that I think about people like my second class petty officer….people who are experiencing life in such a way that it breaks them, it snuffs out any notion of goodness or hope in their lives. I think about people who are in the midst of despair.

Here’s the thing about despair: it’s more than simply feeling depressed, sad, hurt, or disappointed. It goes beyond that. For Israel, despair is the reality of exile in Babylon – the city of Jerusalem and the temple destroyed along with their homes, and being shuttled hundreds of miles away to a foreign land with no hope of return. Likewise, despair is finding your wife in bed with another man when you go home to get a toothbrush. Despair is losing a job you really needed to make ends meet. Despair is looking in the mirror and seeing a worn out, worthless piece of crap staring back at you. Despair is sitting in a hospital, seeing and hearing your loved one wail and wince in pain, being told there’s nothing to ease it – you just have to wait it out.

And I guess when I think about people experiencing despair in that way….what exactly is good news? What exactly is gospel?

This past week during our Wednesday text study, the topic of people of despair came up, and we asked each other this question: Despair….are you drawn to it, or do you try to distance yourself from it? When you come across people in their moments of despair, when it’s right there in your face, do you feel strangely drawn to them, or does it make you uncomfortable and want to distance yourself from them?

Back to that underway and my second class petty officer….throughout that underway, I grabbed a tactical manual or my laptop, sat with him and worked on tasks while he worked on things. Sometimes I’d just head down to the spaces when I knew he was working on a piece of equipment or on watch. We didn’t say a whole lot, I didn’t really ask him how he was doing, and when we did talk it was usually about duty or our upcoming certifications. But from time to time…..he’d start talking, “I just don’t understand sir, why did she do it, and was it so bad she couldn’t even wait 2 more hours until there was no doubt I was out to sea?” I’d sit there in silence, because honestly, I had no glimpse of an answer to make sense of that…..and then he’d finish with, “Thanks sir, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.”

I’m not alone.

So often, we make gospel out to be an answer, an idea: justification by grace through faith. Unconditional salvation for all. Libration and freedom for the oppressed. But for us, gospel is a person – it is Jesus Christ. It is Christ, the suffering servant who comes to the bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks….those who are in the midst of despair that brings a darkness and hell that seems never-ending……and is Emmanuel, God with us. Christ, a person, the suffering servant who does not cry or lift up his voice with unhelpful advice or meaningless cliches…..but just simply stands with us. Christ is the one who draws near to those in despair because on the cross, he bore suffering and despair himself.

Are you drawn to those in despair or do you remain distant? People’s despair is certainly uncomfortable, but I wonder if perhaps on some levels, we’re not drawn to it….drawn to stand alongside them because we know what despair is, what it feels like, how it breaks us…..and what we so desperately want is for some one to come stand alongside us.

This 3rd Sunday we light the candle of Joy – Christ is our joy this Advent season. We rejoice for Christ the suffering servant – the One who is our joy in the midst of despair. Christ, who calls us to to be suffering servants in the world – as church, as disciples…..so that all might know gospel, Emmanuel, God with us.

We are not alone. Amen.

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2013 Advent Devotional 3: “Good Morning”

Isaiah 35:1-10

When I read this passage, the imagery catches my attention: water breaking forth in the wilderness (which in Judea was the desert), streams in the desert, thirsty ground springs forth water and the like. God will come again to the people and restore them, and all of creation will spring forth new life.

And it reminds me of mornings in the spring and summer on the farm. I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota as a kid, and so mornings started early for us….4:30am, while it was still dark outside. And because of that, I got to see a lot of sunrises and mornings – the mist of a fog lifting, the dew on the grass, the hay fields, and on the newly planted fields of crops. It turned everything green – I mean REALLY green, better than any touched up photo or painting. And in that moment, through the peaceful breaking in of the morning, and the life seemed to jump out of it, I felt a sense of joy and excitement at the day to begin. (Which would quickly disappear when my dad would show me his list of farm work for the day!)

This passage from Isaiah paints a similar vision for the people of God. Everything in Judah has been overrun; the people are in the “desert” place in their lives, a place of barrenness and hopelessness. But God provides a vision of new life – and in that vision, God will break through. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.” People will see in the restoration of their livelihood, the very presence and action of God.

I wonder, this Advent, if remembering the Christmas story isn’t like one of those “good mornings” on the farm; an announcement and vision of God breaking in and making all things new as in Judah in days of old.

The announcement of Christmas is that “Morning Has Broken”: The Christ Child comes into this world, and with him comes God’s vision of the past, present and future – a vision of joy and hope and peace.

That brings me to a favorite hymn of mine: “Morning Has Broken.” The lyrics were written in 1931 and set to an old Gaelic carol tune from the late 1800’s. Cat Stevens popularized it by recording it in 1972…and of course, people think that’s where the song originated from. But the imagery is striking, similar to Isaiah 35. And I think it’s a fitting hymn for Advent.

Morning has broken
Like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the word

Sweet the rains new fall
Sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall
On the first grass
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness
Where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light
Eden so play
Praise with elation
Praise every morning
God’ s recreation
Of the new day

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