As a church this weekend we hosted the Parking Lot Mission and fed warm breakfasts to financially-poor neighbors, helped 48 children in Florence County receive beds and bedding of their own, were led in worship by children of God from ages 4-84, and invited the community to hear the story of God’s love while joining us in supporting The CARE House of the Pee Dee. It was a good weekend of sharing what God has provided us (Luke 3:10-11) and honoring the God who gives us far more than we can ever give in return.
One of the mysteries of our faith is that God transcends space and time and connects us across barriers that otherwise divide. We are united in Jesus with Christians who gather in other places of worship – not just those down the street, but those across the world. We are united in Jesus with Christians who came before and those who will come after us. The carols we sing together Sunday have been sung by people on other continents in other centuries and by people who held us close on Christmas Eves long ago. As we sing those familiar carols, those we love, but who now sing their praises “upon another shore” may well come to heart and mind. Sing with them once more.
While we are comfortably gathered in Central’s sanctuary Sunday afternoon for The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, there will be people in our community and far beyond in very uncomfortable, sad, and vulnerable situations. There will be people outside our doors and throughout the world who are physically and spiritually hungry and don’t know where to turn. Even as we know plenty and joy Sunday afternoon, the Bidding Prayer demands we have on our hearts those who do not.
I don’t think enough about what would “rejoice Jesus’ heart.” I have the ratio out of balance – I think too much about what would bring me joy and not enough about what would bring Jesus joy. The Bidding Prayer tells us that our concern for God’s world, God’s people, for peace and goodwill on earth, and for love and unity in the church brings Jesus joy.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Bidding Prayer continues:
Therefore let us hear again from Holy Scripture
the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our sin
until the glorious redemption brought us by this holy Child;
and let us make this house of prayer glad with our carols of praise.
You may have noticed in yesterday’s reading of the gospel (Luke 3:1-6) that Luke tried to take us to a particular place and time. He was careful in his “orderly account” (Luke 1:1) to date John the Baptizer’s proclamation by naming those who were in power. He listed a king, a governor, three rulers, and two high priests to give his hearers a sense of the time period. It was a more vivid description (and a more typical way of doing history in those times) than saying “in the year 28” or “about 50 years ago.” Think of the descriptive difference between, “I was born in 1974” and “I was born during the first months of Gerald Ford’s presidency, in the final months of Governor West’s term, a few months before the end of the Vietnam War, and in a time when ‘The Way We Were’ topped the charts.”
I asked our fifth grader this morning if she knew why December 7 is a day “which will live in infamy.” She asked, “What is ‘infamy.’” I said, “Something remembered for a very bad thing that happened.” She said, “Well, I don’t want to have a bad day.” I told her that not every December 7 is a bad day, but it’s a day to remember because it’s the day that the Japanese shocked the world by attacking Pearl Harbor.
I concluded my sermon yesterday saying that now is the time to hope. Hope, Biblically speaking, is more than wishing. Hope is a bold expression of faith. Hebrews 11:1 teaches us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hope is clinging to the belief that something better will come because God is good and loving and righteous and wants something better for his creation.
I have never stood guard against a group of people aiming to do me, my family, or my country harm. I’ve never stood on the 38th Parallel of the Korean Peninsula, or on a watchtower in the Kandahar base in Afghanistan, or on a Coast Guard ship deck outside of Miami. I don’t know what it’s like to spend hours and hours, days upon days watching for something that may or may not come, but if it comes is potentially a grave threat.
If my sermon yesterday left you wondering how can someone be truth, ask John or go straight to the source and ask Jesus. Jesus is the one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
We might be better equipped to think of Jesus as way and life. Way gives us the sense of a path, as in Jesus is the model for living, and conduit, as in Jesus is the means by which we approach the Father. Life is unsustainable without air, water, and blood. Jesus breathes into us (John 20:22), washed us in baptismal waters, and sustains our lives through his blood. But how does this “truth” metaphor work?
This Sunday is the end of the Church Year. We’ve worked our way from Advent through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Kingdomtide, and are at the culmination: Christ the King Sunday. The whole year builds toward this because his reign is forever. Jesus’ infancy didn’t last long, nor did his earthly life, for that matter. In his resurrection and ascension he assumed to his heavenly throne, which is his for all time. Whatever else would seek our devotion and to reign in our lives, whatever else would attempt to have dominion in this world, it is Christ who reigns above all.
For many Thanksgivings in my early childhood the routine was the same: wake up in Rock Hill, enjoy the Thanksgiving Day parade in Charlotte, ride 3 hours east, and join family at the already-in-progress gathering. In my teenage years, we stopped attending the parade, which meant getting to my grandfather’s home earlier, which meant more time for playing (and watching) football, picking up pecans, and feasting with family. In recent years, we’ve shifted our gatherings back to Charlotte, enjoying time with Sally’s side of the family first, then my side in the evening.
I was very pleased with our Charge Conference yesterday. Reverend Fleming led us well and we had much to celebrate. It is a source of great joy to be part of a church like Central where you can throw a dart at a calendar and, whatever date you hit, show how the church has been ministering. We minister to one another and to those beyond this church in Jesus’ name and are blessed in so doing.
What motivates you? If you’re answer is, “That depends,” I think that’s a fair response. There are times when competition pushes us to try hard, sacrifice more, dig deeper and there are times when too much competition motivates us to quit. There are times when proving someone wrong is a driving force (“Don’t tell me ‘I can’t’”) and times when we’re defeated by their negativity (“He’s right. I can’t.”).
We’re thinking of military veterans these days. We’re remembering the end of World War I. No soldier carried every single fallen soldier off the battlefield, but plenty of soldiers carried one or two. Only Jesus can carry the weight of the world, but his people can carry the weight of a child or a few of God’s children. Be refreshed by his Spirit and by the invitation to do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
Florence. Pittsburgh. Tallahassee. Thousand Oaks. And those are just the cities I can recall from the past month. Devastatingly, Thousand Oaks was the 307th mass shooting of 2018 and it occurred on the 311th day of the year. Each city will have a painful scar that comes from such events. Each city, as Florence has experienced, will also have the grace of coming together and holding one another up through tragedy.
So begins Psalm 84 and so we heard in the sanctuary yesterday as the choir offered a beautiful rendition of the Brahms setting. Sitting in a lovely space dedicated to worship, hearing those notes, knowing the saints we were preparing to remember, I was moved.
Yesterday was All Saints Day. Sunday is All Saints Sunday. Reminiscent of Holy Saturday (the day between Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and his victory over the grave on Easter), today we’re in between.
Of course, we’re always in between, especially those in the midst of grief. We’re in between the joys and difficulties of lives shared, the sadness of lives ended, and the hope of the life to come.