Rev. Martha Jacobs
Seeking God Together
Psalm 122, Isaiah 2:1-5
Sunday, November 27, 2016
This Sunday, follows that really important day in our lives – Black Friday – where we were supposed to shop for all of the amazing deals that will never come our way again, so we better take advantage of them and if we don’t, Christmas might just not be Christmas! Oh, and then there is Cyber Monday, the Monday after the Friday that is the busiest shopping day of the year. Oh, and then there is first Saturday after the first Cyber Monday after the Black Friday after Thanksgiving….and so it goes until Christmas Eve when it is the best shopping day of the year…except for the day after Christmas, which is the best…
If I sound a little cynical about all of this – perhaps it is age, perhaps it is the general sense that our country is fraying at the edges and in the middle, perhaps it is hearing from some people about how their Thanksgiving just wasn’t as joyous or thankful as it has been in past years. It would be easy to go down that path and wallow in what might have been, should have been, could have been.
Ah, but this is Advent and the flip side of the commercial Christmas and the disquietude in our country, is remembering who we are and whose we are. This is the beginning of a new church year liturgically. Our church year is modeled after Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, so it makes sense that we start our story right before Christ is born. It is a time of anticipation, a time when we want to listen for the hope, the peace, the love and the joy that Advent brings with it. It is a time of waiting. If we can get away from the commercialism, it is our time to take time, not to shop or browse on the internet for the best price for whatever is the hottest item this Christmas. It is a time to reflect on the season of Christ’s coming. It is the season of waiting. Hard to do these days, when we are bombarded with hurry, do this, hurry buy that, hurry, hurry, hurry.
Advent is the opposite of the constant commercialism that is in our faces. It is actually a good test of our powers of concentration. Can we put aside those enticements and concentrate on God and on us. Advent is about waiting – waiting for Jesus. We tell the Christmas stories over and over to remind us of God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness to God. We tell the great stories of our faith. We gather to hear and celebrate what God is doing today and what God will do for us in the future. Not unlike the people in the Bible, we are waiting for the promises of God to happen in the here and now as hard as that might be to imagine these days. Our Advent Soup and Service on Wednesdays and Sunday worship services are a way to center us on the real reason for this season. And so, we wait.
Every once in a while, I think about why we gather together most Sundays. I think one of the main reasons we do so is to encourage each other and help each other to see God, especially during the more difficult times in our lives. I wonder if sometimes we come to church in order not be alone in our waiting and watching. I wonder if we come to hear not only God’s promises but also to hear about how God is working in the lives of our fellow sojourners, because when we have experienced God’s love, we can share it with others. And, we can help others navigate through difficult times by walking with them. We are joined together by God’s promise to abide with us. And, we are joined together by God’s gift of this community which helps us see that God is keeping that promise.
God indeed is keeping that promise. God is active now. God has been active – Emmanuel God with Us – is not just an empty phrase. Dear ones, God is with us. Last Sunday is a true testimony to that!
Last Sunday, the office phone rang around 2:30. I answered it; it was a woman saying that she really wanted to come to the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and Dinner service, but didn’t have a ride. Her voice sounded really disappointed because she could not get here to be with us. I took her address and phone number and told her that I could not promise that someone would be able to pick her up, but that I would try. I hung up the phone and wondered if any of us, including me, would go and pick up a perfect stranger and bring her here. Well, I opened my FCC directory and made a call. The first person I called, without hesitation, said yes. I was blown away.
Then, when we needed people to step up and help serve, when we needed ushers, when we needed people to help clean up, I was again blown away as people took on different leadership roles, including our youth, all the while being inviting and welcoming. I won’t embarrass anyone by naming names, so you can relax, I am not going to call you out! Witnessing last Sunday affirms again for me that we have an abundance of blessings here at FCC!
Friends, we are building God’s kingdom here on earth and it is so apparent that God is with us even as we continue to seek God together. We are seeking to draw closer to God even as God draws closer to us. Our yearning for God and for a world where there is no violence, where all people are welcome, where peace prevails, is somewhat similar to what the people of Isaiah’s time were yearning for.
Isaiah takes us up a mountain and shows us what our hearts are attuned to – a vision for our future. Isaiah shows us God’s presence. God’s house will be established and nations shall stream to it. People everywhere will be drawn to God, from all nations, all cultures, all races. They will converge out of a shared desire for divine interaction. We saw a glimpse of that last Sunday at our interfaith service! Anyone who attended that service was so uplifted by it! It was truly a glimpse of what is possible when people come together for a common purpose, where we welcomed and celebrated religious differences, where we gave due honor to God, by whatever name we call that power that is greater than us, as well as celebrating what makes us different. It was an amazing divine interaction.
Friends, in our hurried lives, we need the gift of waiting, the gift of anticipation. We need to cherish these moments. As we light our Advent candles and sing O Come, O Come Emanuel, the longing we have, the hope we have, we need to harness those feelings as we go through our days, as we deal with what is happening in our world. We can come into this house of worship, this sanctuary, this safe space. Sometimes, it might be easy to stay here, to linger here, to want the outside world to reflect the beauty of this space and place. But, this space is what it is because of who is in this place. Together, we are in this place. And when people are unable to be here with us, they know that we are here – and will hold them in prayer and uplift them even as we uplift our own spirits to walk with God, to wait for Jesus, to be open to the hope, the peace, the joy and the love that not only awaits us, but is already here each and every time we come together.
Theologian Noel Leo Erskine reminds us that we are promised by God that as God’s gift of peace becomes real among us, Jews and Gentiles alike will stream to the mountain of God to be instructed and directed by God. The people who are taught by God will seek peace and practice violence no more. Weapons of violence will be destroyed. To receive divine instruction is to share in a vision of a coming realm of peace in which God will judge among the nations, and nations will not learn war anymore. Dr. Erskine reminds us that whatever peaceable future there is to be, those who hear God’s promise are charged to go walking toward it, “in the light of God.” What an awesome vision that is and we must remember, that whatever we do to ensure that all are cared for and all are treated equally, we must do so peaceably and in the light of God.
In our first Lenten reflection, I found myself concentrating on this line of psalm 122: For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” I ask in that reflection, do you have peace within? How do we achieve peace within ourselves? Are there things that you can do this Advent season that will bring peace within you? Can you allow your heart and soul to be at peace, even as you deal with what is happening in the world? Can you offer to others love and acceptance if you don’t have peace within yourself?
Friends, I invite you during this Advent time to find ways to create peace within you, even as you consider how you will respond to our nations newly elected officials. Seek ways to find and walk toward the light of the Lord knowing that we are called to care for the least of these, whether they be otherly-abled, Muslim, LGBT, or economically or socially different. No matter the color of their skin or their religious beliefs, let us remember Isaiah’s words: “Let God teach us God’s ways so that we may walk in God’s paths.” Friends, let us do this even as we seek to draw closer to God and await the birth of the Christ child.
Dear God, help us to be open to looking for your light and to finding peace within us so that we may offer it to others. May we feel the warmth of your light. May it guide us to think about how your grace affects us and what that means for how we live our lives. May we find time to be with you, dear God, and with those that we love. May our FCC family also feel your love. Let there be peace within each one of us. Amen.