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There Is No Going Back To Normal Or the Glory Days – This is the Beginning

GOSPEL: John 17:1-11
1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples], he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you… 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, we arrive at the seventh and final Sunday in the season of Easter. Easter 2020 must be, without a doubt, the most memorable Easter in our memories. “We are living through history” has been an oft’ repeated phrase of the pandemic era. And our Easter journey as people of faith has not been that far off from our lived reality. Hiding out in locked rooms for fear of the outside world is an essential Easter experience. Having no frame of reference, no experienced story to tell that makes sense of our new world is an essential Easter experience. And being prepared as disciples of Jesus for an unknown future is an essential Easter experience. 

As we prepare to the flip the page on Easter with Pentecost Sunday next week, we slide between Easter realities. In John’s gospel we slide back to Holy Week where Jesus prays for his followers just as he is about to go the cross. In Acts, we hear Jesus and the disciples having a conversation about what happens next to this fledging Easter community. 

The disciples come to Jesus with a request to go back, to return the Kingdom of Israel.  To a specific dream of the“glory days.” A vision that requires a deep dive into the history of Israel.  A specific moment in time, after Moses, after the promise land, beginning with King David but before foreign nations began threatening their borders and before they were exiled and occupied by the Romans. And of course not during the reign of one of the bad or mediocre Kings, but one of the greats! Of course they forget that even during the best of times, God was still sending prophets into their midst telling them to repent and get their act together. 

After all the disciples had seen, from following the call of Jesus from their fishing boats to witnessing the resurrected Christ appear behind locked doors, and their burning question is “are we going back?”

Sound at all familiar?

If you have spent any time reading, watching or listening to the news, you know that the world is wondering when things are going to reopen: from sports to shopping to public spaces – including places of worship. In fact, in many cases, Christians have been at the forefront of the demand to for political and public health leaders to loosen restrictions on gatherings. 

And you would think of all the people demanding that things go back to the way they used to be, we would know better. 

Because we have been longing to go back to what we remember as the glory days, long before this pandemic hit the world. But of course, nailing down what we think we want to go back to is not as easy or straightforward as we think. It was only a matter of weeks ago that we were concerned with declining resources and aging populations and shrinking congregations. Is that what we want to return to? Or is there a more specific place we want to go backwards towards? Do we want to go back to the days of church buildings full of worshippers and bursting Sunday Schools? To a time when women, people of colour and LGBTQ2SIA+ people were prevented from holding positions of leadership in the church? To the time when many churches were homogenous cultural enclaves? To the time when pastors were paid in the chickens and made pastoral visits in order to shame members into handing over their offering?

Our desire may be to go back to the good old days, but which good old days might be hard to answer. 

It is normal to lament what was. Especially when we don’t know what is or what will be. But we have to admit it is strange to long for something that most of us can agree wasn’t that good… something that, if we’re really being honest needed change?

So when the disciples ask their question, Jesus not so gently tells the disciples that they have no clue what is coming next for them, and it isn’t their job to know. That is up to the Father. Instead they are just along for the ride, they are simply witnesses to the activity and plans of God in the world. 

The disciples had no clue that they were about to preach the gospel in all kinds of languages to all kinds of people baptizing them by the thousands. Nor did they know that most of the early church communities would small groups of 12 or 25 people spread throughout the Roman Empire and would be ministered to by a former Pharisee and murderer of Christians who liked to write letters. They did not know their little group of followers would spawn generations upon generations of faith communities proclaiming the gospel to all the ends of the earth.

They had no idea what their path would be as Jesus ascended to the Father. 

Yet as John describes to us, Jesus knows that his followers don’t have a clue what is in store for them. They are dreaming of the return of rose-coloured glory days, of going back to some imagined time of greatness that is certainly better in their imaginations than the real thing. 

They cannot help but look back with nostalgia and hope for the glory days again. 

And yet as Jesus prays, he names the ways in which his disciples belong to each other, that their life together is a reflection of Christ, peek into the Trinity, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All along Jesus has been stitching this rag tag group together, shaping and moulding them for the next phase, the next chapter. Transforming them into this newly birthed community of the gospel. A community defined by the life of Christ, a community tied into the very death and resurrection of the One sent to save. 

That even as they have no idea where they are about to end up, Jesus has been preparing them to be what God needs them to be. 

A community of faith, 
of imperfect and flawed people 
who may not know where they are going, 
but who proclaim that the risen Christ 
is their way, their life and their truth. 
That the cross and empty tomb have changed them 
and all creation 
for the kingdom that has God envisioned. 

And so here today, what does this mean for us? 

We who long to return to normal, even as we begin to recognize that life as we knew it will not, cannot to be the same as it was. We come to the end of Easter, in the midst of this time of global uncertainty longing for comfort of the past. 

And we too are just as clueless about what comes next for us as the disciples were. No matter our desire to go back to normal, to go back to the glory days, to restore the kingdoms of our imaginings… there is no going back. And more importantly, we aren’t the one steering the ship anyways. 

Yet, Jesus’ reminds us today, with Pentecost on the horizon, that our future is known by God. And that we too are being prepared for what comes next for us. 

That Jesus is sticking us together into One Body, 
preparing us yet again to be new communities of faith, 
birthed into the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. 
That the cross and empty tomb redefine us, 
even in a world of declining churches, 
even in a world of pandemic closures… 
God is transforming us into the very body 
that will proclaim the Good News to the world, 
through whom God will proclaim 
forgiveness of sins and salvation in the waters, 
in whom God feeds the world with God’s own Body – the Body of Christ given for us. 

And so yes on this 7th Sunday of the most memorable Easter we have known, we are reminded again that God has the regular habit of setting us off in new directions when we least expect it. And that the destination is not for us to know, nor what things will look like when we get there. But only that God is the one leading us, that we belong to one another in Christ and that the sprit goes with us. And that Christ has been preparing us for this moment long before we even had a clue.

The season of Easter may be coming to an end…

but Christ promises us that this new resurrected life in this Easter community is only beginning. 

Amen. 

Advent begins with the ending

Matthew 24:36-44

[Jesus said to the disciples,] 36“About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

It is time to begin again. Advent is here. The wreath is set out, the colour blue adorns the sanctuary, we are dusting off the advent portion of the hymnbook and we are settling in for 4 weeks of waiting and watching, of “keeping awake” as Jesus would say, for the coming of Messiah. But Advent is not an annoying countdown for Christmas invented by pastors to keep people from singing Christmas Carols in December (although we might be tired of Joy to the World and Silent Night by Christmas Eve if we did).

Today, we are resetting the church’s cycle of telling the story of Jesus. A cycle that has been continuing in some form or another for nearly 2000 years. And Advent always begins in a peculiar way. It begins by talking about the end. About the end of time, about God’s end for us and for all of creation.

Now last week on Christ the King Sunday, we talked about ending and beginnings. We heard that what we usually see and know to be endings, God has a habit of transforming into beginnings. The cross should have been the end of the story, yet God transformed the ending of death into new life. And today, on the first Sunday of the New Year, on this beginning Sunday, we start by going to end of these story, the promise of God to make all things right and new. And there is a reason for revealing the end of the story at the beginning and it isn’t about telling the the story out of order. Rather it is the lens through which to see the Jesus story. This grand story that the church is now beginning to tell over again, from Advent to Christmas, to Epiphany, to Lent, to Holy Week, to Easter, to Pentecost… it is all rooted and founded on this promise of God to make all creation right and new in the end. The promise is made from the beginning of time and kept at the end. God’s promised ending colours every other moment of the story.

And yet, keeping the ending in mind is difficult.

As Jesus implores his disciples to keep awake, he is doing so because he reminding of them of what promised end of the story will be. He is reminding them in the days after he rode into Jerusalem hailed as a king and before his arrest, trial and execution. They are in the middle of the Holy Week chaos, the city sitting on a knife’s edge of tension. Remember the promised ending in the middle of the chaos doesn’t come naturally.

And of course we get it. Here on December 1st, two days after Black Friday and 25 shopping days, 25 baking days, 25 cleaning, Christmas concert going, Christmas party having days until Christmas… we get it. Keeping awake to the end of the story is hard in the middle of the chaos even when you know how much time you have.

Keeping awake to the end of the story when you have no idea when the end is coming… well that is just not how we human beings operate. We cannot help but fall asleep, we cannot help but be unready.

To underscored his point of wakefulness, Jesus gives some examples. Examples that sound like they are about people failing to live up to the boy scout motto – always be prepared. Noah and his family who build an ark while everyone else is swept away in the flood. One worker in the field is taken, one worker in the mill. And the rich man’s house is robbed while he sleeps. And yet, these aren’t examples and counter examples, one way to be ready and one way to not be ready.

The people of Noah’s day had no idea what was coming. The two working in the field were oblivious, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have been working in the fields. The same for the women grinding meal. The owner of the house is robbed because he wasn’t awake.

Jesus simply says keep awake.

Or in other words, remember that it isn’t all about the chaos, it ins’t all about the present moment, all about whatever is right in front of you. Maybe as we are about to begin Advent with trips to the mall for gift buying, putting up lights and baking Christmas cookies, filling our calendars with Christmas parties and concerts, getting ready for Messiah by getting ready for the holidays… maybe Jesus is talking about something different.

Keeping awake.

Keeping awake to the world around us. About seeing a world that needs to be reminded of the end of the story, to hear the promise of God to make all things right. And this means letting our eyes adjust to dark places, to the people and circumstances around us who really need light and hope and salvation. Because keeping awake might mean paying attention to the hard stuff, to the suffering of our neighbours. Keeping awake might be opening our eyes to a community feeling unsafe in stores and public places, to those speaking out against abuse and racism hidden from the public for too long, to the suffering of the planet as we consume more and more, to protests and violence happening all over the world as nations and municipalities deal with citizens feeling unheard and exploited.

Keeping awake is hard and painful. We would much rather watch Christmas movies and drink egg nog. It is much easier to be distracted and on auto-pilot with Christmas preparations than it is to sit, rest and be awake in Advent.

Still as Jesus implores us to be awake, the examples he uses are ones where people are still sleeping. The people around Noah did not see the flood coming. The ones working in the field, the ones grinding meal did not know the time was coming. The owner of the house wasn’t expecting to be robbed. They were not awake. They were sleeping at the wheel.

And each time, the Son of Man came anyways.

For you see, Jesus might tells us to keep awake with the disciples and to watch for the coming of Messiah into our world, but Messiah’s coming doesn’t depend on our wakefulness.

In fact, Jesus knows that we will almost certainly be asleep when Messiah comes.

Yet,

Messiah comes because the world needs Messiah.

Messiah comes because we are waiting for salvation.

Messiah comes because we need hope.

Keeping awake isn’t about making Messiah come, but about seeing where Messiah already is.

Keeping awake isn’t just about seeing the bad stuff, but seeing the light.

Keeping awake is letting our eyes adjust to the dark, so that we begin to see that there is light.

Messiah’s light is appearing as communities rally together to support those affected by fear violence.

Messiah’s light grows as people all over the world begin standing in solidarity with each other and against corruption and abuse.

Messiah’s light multiplies as friends and neighbours stand up and speak out against racism, sexism, violence and hate.

Messiah’s light shows up in friends and neighbours supporting and caring for each other, even when they disagree or do things differently.

And Messiah’s light is born here among us, as we gather to tell the story of Jesus, to pray and sing, to share a meal and to fellowship. As we strive for justice and peace in our communities and the world around us.

The end is coming, the son of man arrives at an unexpected day and hour.

And Jesus says, Keep Awake.

Keep awake for Advent.

Keep awake in a dark world.

Keep awake even though it is hard.

And still when we fall asleep,

when we can’t be help but focus on the chaos,

when we can’t help be consumed with the present moment.

Messiah still comes. In our dark world,

Messiah’s light is born.

Messiah’s light grows.

Messiah’s light brings us Advent.

Messiah is the story of Advent, the story that we are beginning over again today. Messiah is the one who is that small light in a dark world, the light that is hard to see until our eyes adjust, but that is there, pushing back the darkness, allowing us to see a glimpse of the Kingdom of God., allowing us to see the big picture behind it all.

Messiah is God’s promise ending of the story.

So Keep Awake, Jesus says,

because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,

but you do know that Messiah in on the way.

Worshipping before the Shepherd’s Throne

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (Read the Revelation Reading)

It is still the Great Day of the Resurrection! We are half way into the 50 day season of Easter. And for the past three weeks, we have stuck close to the events of the early days after the empty tomb. Jesus meeting the disciples and Thomas behind locked doors. And Jesus meeting Peter and others on the beach, calling Peter to feed his sheep.

Yet, the 4th Sunday of the Easter begins to move us along from the early resurrection moments. Traditionally, the 4th Sunday of the Easter has been observed as Good Shepherd Sunday… a day to be reminded of our Shepherding God calling us into God’s great flock. We hear familiar readings like Psalm 23 and we hear Jesus use familiar sheep and shepherd images in John. And as church folk, we love those quaint images of Jesus with a fuzzy sheep… usually on some oil painting found in a church basement or at grandma’s house… Yet, Good Shepherd Sunday has a deeper sense that it is moving us along in the story of resurrection. From resurrection moments to resurrection community.

And so we hear also from Revelation, John’s vision of the great multitude, the great flock before the throne of the great shepherd at the end of time.

A few decades on from the resurrection, and the first communities of Christians, of Jesus’ followers, were struggling in Roman society. They were social outcasts because they refused to follow the social order. It was essential in the Roman world to know where you belonged. Society was divided up by class, ethnicity, gender, occupation, citizenship, language, and religion. And those early church communities were marginalized because they had this inconvenient habit of declaring that under the One God of All, there was no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. They rejected a world that saw gods in everything, mountains and bubbling springs, the sun and moon and stars, in war and harvest, in nature and animals. They worshipped the one God of all things who died on the cross and rose again on the third day.

This was a threat to the Roman Military cult who believed the essence of their success at conquering new lands was that in each new place they came to conquer, they adopted and prayed to the local mountain gods or river gods or whatever kind they found for victory on the battlefield – and they go it.

For a community living under oppression, marginalized and ostracized, sometimes even sent to the coliseums to be eaten by lions, the Revelation of John provided a vision of God’s great promise of reconciliation… the unity of God’s people worshiping before the throne, the Shepherd’s one great flock.

This great unified multitude gathering before the One God’s throne is as counter-cultural today as it was for early Christian communities. We too live in a world that encourages us to look around for people who are like us, who resemble us, and to fear anyone who doesn’t. We constantly navigate the many and various divisions that categorize people. Whether it is which political party we support, what religion we practice, what education level we have obtain or job we do, what the colour of our skin is or the gender we identify as or generation we belong to, what sports team we cheer for or tv show we are fans of. Our world is just as divided and categorized as the ancient world. And the narratives, the stories that we are told push us to fear those who are different, those who don’t belong to the same tribes and groups we belong to.

The idea that we belong to one great multitude is one that goes against most of what we are told by the world around us.

And so it is no wonder that when we talk about Jesus the Good Shepherd, we hold on to the images of shepherd staffs and fuzzy lambs. We love those paintings of a kindly Jesus holding a little sheep in his arms. We want to be comforted, we want to hear that we are one of the sheep, one of the people who gets to be a part one of the most important groups we can think of.

Yet having just come from the cross and empty tomb, from Thomas seeing the marks in Jesus’ hands and side, from Peter’s shame being met by Jesus’ compassion over a breakfast of fish on the beach… is fuzzy sheep and kindly shepherds where we have been headed with all of this?

If we are honest, the radical inclusive of God’s kingdom is something we don’t usually want to imagine. The idea that those whom we fear, those who are different, those whom we often would rather keep out and keep away from, are actually a part of us can make us uncomfortable. A great multitude of people full of those who we struggle to imagine as being anything but other from us is hard to grasp.

So it is no mistake that the place and time that this great multitude comes together is not the end of time, but a moment that we know all too well.

My seminary internship was in Calgary, and I was placed in fairly affluent congregation in a neighbourhood just a few blocks from the University. Recently, the C-Train, Calgary Light Rail transit system, had just added a stop close to the church. And one of the consequences was that this sleepy neighbourhood was all of a sudden accessible from anywhere in the city. Many poor and homeless figured out that begging in the burbs was more profitable than downtown. And the church’s back porch and beneath the spruce trees in the yard became convenient places for homeless folks to sleep off a high. This also meant that from time to time, this mostly affluent congregation would welcome some of Calgary’s poorest to worship.

As the intern, one of my usual roles in worship was to serve the common cup at communion. Since most people chose individual cups, I often stood back and watched people coming and going from the altar rail. In those moments, it seemed like a glimpse of the great multitude. As people came to rail, there were oil executives and bank mangers next to retirees and school children. Ex-CFL players alongside teachers and retail managers. Homeless people next to engineers and nurses, people who had lived in the neighbourhood for 80 years next to new immigrants.

Despite all the ways in which we seek to divide ourselves, to find ways in which we are different, the veil between heaven and earth is pulled back as we all came to the table in the same way. Hands open and empty, we are given bread and wine… God gives us the Body of Christ to make us the Body of Christ. As a seminary prof once said to us, “Swirling around in the cup are all your brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Good Shepherd Sunday and the great multitude gathered before the throne tells us a story of God’s desire for us that is very different than any story we hear the other days of the week. It is a story rooted in this gathering that we belong to right here and now. It is the gathering of God’s people before the throne… it the story of God gathering us, and all creation before the word, before the waters, before the bread and wine.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is not just a gentle shepherd holding a fuzzy little sheep, but a God who is gathering us, all of us, all the varied and different kinds of us… gathering all of us up into the great multitude worshipping before the throne. Worshipping before the throne of the one who has come to die with us, and who shows us the way to resurrection and new life…

To new and resurrected life in the one great multitude, God’s great flock to which we now belong.

Do you not care Jesus?

Mark 4:35-41

 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” (Read the whole passage)

For the past few weeks, Mark has been taking us on an intense ride through the beginning parts of his gospel. The pharisees began by plotting to kill Jesus for healing a man with a withered hand on the sabbath, Jesus’ family believed he has crazy and wanted to take him away, and last week Jesus told parables about the Kingdom of God being like the mustard bush, the worst weed in the garden. 

Yet still, with our own news is full of extremes… world cup upsets, legalization of another kind of weed, and of course children being ripped from families at the US border… it isn’t like these intense scenes from Mark are that different from what is going on around us.

Today, of course, is no different. The disciples find themselves on an ill fated boat ride with Jesus. As they cross the sea of Galilee, a violent storm comes upon them. As fisherman, they shouldn’t have been surprised as violent storms have the habit of coming on suddenly on Galilee. But even as experienced fisherman, they wake Jesus because they are afraid of drowning. 

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

It is a rather loaded question. It is not a direct request for help. It is not the usual cry to God that we might expect. It is not a “Help me God or Save me Jesus”. 

It is almost as if the disciples are saying, 

“Wake up Jesus! Wake up so that you can drown with us!”, 

And Jesus does wake. Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind. He literally muzzles it. He tells the waves to stop and be still. And then Jesus chastises the disciples. 

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no trust” or more accurately, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not trust?”

And then something interesting happens. The wind and the waves were calm. But the disciples become fearful. More than fearful. They fear a great fear. They are Terrified upon terrified. Frightened upon frightened. 

And instead of looking to Jesus, they look to one another. 

“Who is this in the boat with us? Who is this guy that even the wind and the waves obey him?”

We know these fears of the disciples well. We have been through the storms of life too. 

Our storms might not be found in boats, but they rock us just the same. They are the accusations that so many throw about, “Do you not care about children being ripped rom their parents?” They are the fears of trade tariffs and economic hardships. They are broken relationships and hurting families, illness and disease. Our wind and waves are change and upheaval. In our congregations, our cries to Jesus and asking if he cares are about the future, about declining numbers, about uncertainty and conflict. And sometimes it can feel as if these storms hit us, one after another. 

But all of these fear and worries sit on above a greater fear buried deep within us.  fear that comes from a more primal place. Fear rooted in sin, in self centeredness. Fear rooted in our wanting to be God in God’s place. Fear that shows itself when we are faced with the reality that God is in control and we are not. Fear that makes us wonder, who is this Jesus. Who is this Jesus that is in the boat with us, in our homes with us, in the church with us?

Whether we admit it or not, we like to think that Jesus is only around when we bother to pray or read the bible, but probably goes home when we are busy. We like to think God is an ever available problem solver, always waiting but never intruding. And as congregations, we act as if were we ever to close up shop, God would close up shop too. 

And so on days like today, when the storm is calmed and we cannot help but see God in the world and in our midst, we are left with the disciples asking, “Who is this Jesus?”

Who is this Jesus?

The storm is the least of the disciples’ problems. In fact, the disciples ask the question that is at the core of their being. “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

Do you not care? 

We long to know that we are cared about, that someone, something out there believes that we matter. 

And does this Jesus actually care?

Does Jesus care about us, about me?

Deep within us is the fear that no one cares, that God does not care about us. That we don’t mean anything, that we are of no value. When the dispels ask Jesus, “Do you not care that we we are perishing?” It wasn’t about the storm, it was the fear that Jesus might not actually care about them after all.

Do you not care Jesus?

And yet, it is precisely because God cares has come to be ride with us in our boats. Because God cares about sin and death that God has been born in flesh. 

God has come to live life among us, and God come to die with us. 

It is isn’t the storm of wind and waves that Jesus has come to still. 

It is the storm of death. 

Jesus has come to muzzle death. 

Jesus has come to die on the cross in order to silence death.

As the disciples wonder at who is this Jesus that is in the boat with them, their wonder is not truly about this one among them who even the wind and wave obey. It is a wonder about whether this God in flesh actually cares about them, about creation, about all of us. 

And for us who know the end of the story, the wonder is no different. The wonder and fear of the one who can muzzle and silence death from cross still doesn’t make us certain that we are cared about.

But that is our stuff.  

Because Jesus still comes into our boats. Just as Jesus road in the boat with disciples, Jesus rides with us into our storms, our places of fear and uncertainty. The places where we fear that no one cares about us, we fear that we will die and becoming nothing.

Just like the disciples whose fear was only multiplied by not knowing who this Jesus is, we too fail to see Jesus in the storms and in the calm. And yet, Jesus gets into our boats anyways. Jesus comes into our world, lives among us and goes to the cross anyways. Because there in the boat and in the storms, there on the waters of creation where the distance between creation and creator is shortened… Jesus claims us. Jesus names us as God’s own. In the waters of baptism, Jesus reminds us that whether we live or we die, we belong to God. 

God is in control whether we like it or not. God is saving us from sin and death whether we see it or not. God is loving us, whether we like it or not. 

“Do you not care that we are perishing? “

“Do you not care God?”

And there in our boats, in our storms, in the midst of our accusations and fears, Jesus reminds of just how much God cares for us. That no matter the wind and the waves, we belong to God. That no matter how many jobs might be lost because of one man’s pride, or how many families might be separated because of cruelty and fear, or no matter what dangers that might cause us to believe we are dying we encounter, 

Jesus is with us, in our boats, in our cages, in our fears and in our anxiety… reminding us that we are not alone, and wether we live or wether we die, we belong to God. 

And even when we still have no faith, 

God has faith in us and for us,

because God cares for us, 

and for all. 

The Lord Christ is coming – The Messiah has always been here

Mark 13:24-37

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (Read the whole passage)

 

It would probably be a safe bet that no one attended a rocking new year’s eve party last night.

Advent, and the beginning of a new church year is pretty understated as far as New Years goes. Never the less, we are taking the first step of a new church year today. And as always, we begin with Advent.

Advent is the season of waiting and watching. We drape the sanctuary with blue, a colour representing hopeful anticipation. We light candles to symbolize the light of Christ coming into the world. We hear stories of the waiting of Israel for Messiah, and then Jesus’ own words about the end of the world.

And we do all of these somewhat odd things while the rest of world is frantic with Christmas fever, the lights and decorations having been out long enough to be gathering dust, and the music has gone stale on the radio and over mall speakers.

As is often the case, we find that the church tends to do the opposite of the world.

And so today, we slow down to light our lamps and watch for the signs of the coming Messiah.

As we hear Jesus begin our advent season, the thing he is talking about is the end. He gives us a prophecy, a glimpse of the end of the world. Signs found in darkened celestial bodies, and the coming of the Son of Man in glory.

And Jesus is speaking to an audience that has been waiting for Messiah for generations. The people of Israel had been waiting for a long time for God to send the one who would free them from oppression, release them from their suffering and re-establish a divine rule by one of God’s appointed kings, and not foreign occupiers like the Romans.

The Israelites had been waiting since the time that Isaiah prophesied Messiah’s coming, hundreds of years before Jesus’ day. And during that time life had not been easy. Israel had constantly been surrounded by enemy nations, there had been constant destruction and ruin. But despite this, the promise they clung to was that God was sending a promised Messiah, a saviour who would come to free them.

By Jesus’ day the Israelites were growing restless… but they could also see the signs. King Herod had killed all the children in the holy town of Bethlehem around the time of Jesus’s birth, and John the Baptist decades later had begun preaching in the desert. And now here was the one, the wandering preacher and healer, telling them of the coming Messiah.

The people could feel that it was close, that Messiah was in the air. The signs were there, and here was the one whom many thought to be Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and he was telling them of God’s plans to restore creation and set the world to right.

Finally, Messiah was close at hand.

2000 years down the road, we might not be living with that same kind of imminent sense of Messiah’s coming. While we hear the stories and read of Messiah’s impending coming, we do so year after year, decade after decade, lifetime after lifetime. And the stories written with such urgency take on a different meaning and we hear them in different ways.

And these days, as so many of us wonder about churches and the future of the faith in our part of the world, we feel less like the crowds listening expectantly to Jesus the Messiah in flesh announce God’s plans to restore creation, more like those who had been waiting generations before. We feel more like those who heard Isaiah’s words:

We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Isaiah has us pegged.

The grand visions of Jesus in Mark are not the clear and blinding signs for us that they were for the people of Jesus’ day. For us, they are hazy and hard to make out. The cosmic re-ordering that God is about to undertake feels more abstract and far off, than immediate and close at hand.

We faded leaves know the struggle. We know what it is to be tired and to wait, to feel thinned out and week. It is hard to keep the faith these days. Hard to keep showing up to hand out bulletins and sing God’s praises. Hard to volunteer to vacuum the church and receive forgiveness. Hard to look at budget statements and council reports AND pray without ceasing.

Jesus’ exhortation to ‘Keep Awake’ is hard enough to do during the sermon, let alone to keep vigil day after day, week after week, year after year.

But the Church has known this. Christians have known that waiting for the Messiah is both a long and a short game. Even as Mark was setting down his gospel only 30 years after Jesus rose from the dead, the early church was wondering when Jesus would return. Those first witnesses to the resurrection were getting old and beginning to die off.

And ever since, the church has lived with the sense of the now and not yet. The sense that God’s Kingdom is here NOW among us. And that God’s grand future plans to restore all creation have NOT YET come to fruition.

So we live with this dual reality. The reality that Jesus proclaims, the coming Son of Man and the reality of Isiah, that we are fading leaves waiting to be blown away in the wind.

Each Advent we begin by acknowledging this reality with the words of the collect or prayer of the day. While most begin by praising God, in Advent we begin with a petition, a request. And we direct it not to God the Father, but straight to the long awaited Messiah.

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

We pray knowing that we need, ever so desperately the stirring up of Messiah’s power.

And we pray knowing that the Messiah, the one sent to save us is finally now, after our long waiting is stirring up power like a pot boiling over.

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

And as the Israelites waited and waited for the coming of Messiah, even as they faded like leaves blowing in the wind.

And as the crowds heard Messiah himself preach the coming of God in power, even as they could feel Messiah in the air.

And as we grow tired waiting for something to happen among us, even as it is hard to keep up the faith.

And as the church of today sits at a moment of tremendous change, even as we don’t want to see it.

The Lord Christ is coming.
The Messiah has always been here.

The Lord Christ is coming, even when we find it hard to believe, even though it feels painfully slow. The Lord Christ is coming to bring an end to suffering, to make our upside down world right, reconcile all creation to God, to restore us all to what God intended us to be. It just has NOT YET come fully.

And the Messiah has always been here, already among us, here NOW, giving us mercy, forgiving our sins, showing us resurrection and new life.

The Messiah has always been here, present in the word of God, made manifest in the words that sound from our lips and in our midsts.

The Lord Christ is always coming to us from the waters of baptism, pulling us into a not yet future, where our sin and selfishness are no more, where we die and rise to new life.

The Messiah Lord Christ is here and yet coming to us in the bread and wine, body and blood, where God meets us, where God binds and joins us to Christ, the now risen and still coming one.

Even as we wait, even as we grow tired. Even as the story is told over and over again from the people of Israel to now…. God is bringing us from the end to the beginning.

From Advent and its promises of the great cosmic plan of God, to the beginning, to the beginning of God’s new creation born within us that first Easter.

Sure, there probably no new year’s eve parties last night.

But that is because God’s great and never ending party, starts here today.