Scripture - Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Mark 13:24-37
Isaiah 64:1-9 - The Message
1-7 Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend,
make the mountains shudder at your presence--
As when a forest catches fire,
as when fire makes a pot to boil--
To shock your enemies into facing you,
make the nations shake in their boots!
You did terrible things we never expected,
descended and made the mountains shudder at your presence.
Since before time began
no one has ever imagined,
No ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who happily do what is right,
who keep a good memory of the way you work.
But how angry you’ve been with us!
We’ve sinned and kept at it so long!
Is there any hope for us? Can we be saved?
We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated.
Our best efforts are grease-stained rags.
We dry up like autumn leaves--
sin-dried, we’re blown off by the wind.
No one prays to you
or makes the effort to reach out to you
Because you’ve turned away from us,
left us to stew in our sins.
Still, God, you are our Father.
We’re the clay and you’re our potter:
All of us are what you made us.
Don’t be too angry with us, O God.
Don’t keep a permanent account of wrongdoing.
Keep in mind, please, we are your people—all of us.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (The Message)
1-2 Listen, Shepherd, Israel’s Shepherd--
get all your Joseph sheep together.
Throw beams of light
from your dazzling throne
So Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh
can see where they’re going.
Get out of bed—you’ve slept long enough!
Come on the run before it’s too late.
God, come back!
Smile your blessing smile:
That will be our salvation.
how long will you smolder like a sleeping volcano
while your people call for fire and brimstone?
You put us on a diet of tears,
bucket after bucket of salty tears to drink.
You make us look ridiculous to our friends;
our enemies poke fun day after day.
God-of-the-Angel-Armies, come back!
Smile your blessing smile:
That will be our salvation.
Then take the hand of your once-favorite child,
the child you raised to adulthood.
We will never turn our back on you;
breathe life into our lungs so we can shout your name!
God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, come back!
Smile your blessing smile:
That will be our salvation.
Mark 13:24-37 (The Message)
24-25 “Following those hard times,
Sun will fade out,
moon cloud over,
Stars fall out of the sky,
cosmic powers tremble.
26-27 “And then they’ll see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his Arrival filling the sky—no one will miss it! He’ll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole.
28-31 “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.
32-37 “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.”
What does anticipation feel like for you? That moment - or moments - of waiting and dealing with the “not-yet-but-almost-here?” You could be waiting for something good or bad -- but what do you find yourself doing in those times of expectation?
Two things for me - as a kid, I would have a hard time getting to sleep. I was keyed up and ready - like my body and my mind just couldn’t shut down. I remember feeling this way on Christmas Day, or on the nights before we embarked on a big road trip - we used to drive down to Youngstown, OH once a year to see my grandparents, and we’d leave at 2 in the morning and I had the hardest time getting to sleep because I was so excited to get on the road. There was this energy and readiness that suffused my being and it was really hard to shift out of “engage” and into “relaxation.”
The second thing that I notice myself doing when I’m actively waiting for something is that the event is on my mind all the time. I think about it. I often daydream about it. I wonder and explore and consider “what if”s - and it doesn’t matter if the thing I’m waiting for is something I’m excited about or something I’m dreading - there is an investment of mental, emotional, and spiritual energy in the lead up to whatever I’m waiting for.
Our readings for this morning are full of yearning and expectation - a lamentation over the world that is and desperate cries for God to usher in the world that will be. We see Jesus speaking with his disciples, telling them to be ready for his appearing - ready for that day when the fullness of the kingdom will be revealed - to not be swayed by false promises of comfort because no one knows when that day will be. He calls his disciples to read the signs - much like we read the signs in nature and can tell that seasons are about to change - to know when he is about to be revealed. Keep watch - keep awake - be ready. God’s dream for the world is at hand.
Throughout human history, we’ve lived through apocalyptic events - and I don’t mean apocalyptic in the “fire and brimstone raining down from the heavens” sense or the “world is going to end in destruction and peril” sense - but in the “end of an era” sense - the sense that means an end in our own particular way of viewing or understanding the world or the sense that reveals difficult stuff that previously wasn’t part of our collective experience and now we have to wrestle with sense. There have always been moments and eras in history that reveal just how entrenched we are in systems that aren’t life-giving for all. The pandemic revealed some pretty ugly stuff about our country’s health care system. These past years have continued to reveal injustices in how Black, Asian-American, Hispanic, and Indigenous folks experience the United States because of their racial identity. Or the deep economic disparity between those who have enormous wealth and those who work two jobs and are still unable to afford housing. Or how we are at a tipping point globally with how we address climate devastation - a crisis that impacts every single human being living on this planet.
Being awake means that as God’s people, we stay attentive to the reality of the world. We don’t have to go so far as keeping the TV tuned to our favorite 24 hour news channel - but neither can we distance ourselves and pretend like we have no stake or obligation in issues of injustice (even if they seem distant from us). We keep awake because the fullness of the kingdom of God is at hand. We keep awake so that we can be aware of and moved by and can stand in solidarity with those who have been disempowered - whether through race, class, disability, orientation, or country of origin.
We’re in a place as a society where we can see the effects that oppression has had over generations, where we can see the barriers that have been put up to the freedom offered in the gospel, the gates that have been erected through colonialism, white supremacy, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism.
Hannah Garrity, creative partner of Sanctified Art, reflects, “When I think about the theme, Those who Dream, I see God’s people realizing God’s dream, right now. We are poised on a threshold. The dreams that we dream now will build the new world...God has reached each of us in our own way and we can see the dreams God has for us. We must break down the barriers to create space for God’s dreams...We can see the death, pain, poverty, and injury that systems of oppression have caused. We can see how colonialism was informed by selfish, oppressive thought. We can see that white supremacy has co-opted Christianity repeatedly since its birth. The gospel does not condone that...And we can also see—like a glimmer on the horizon, like a distant memory in the teachings of faith, like a phoenix from the ashes—the way that we can reimagine this world, this global society. We can see the way that God is calling us to break down and build up. We can see the dream, God's dream. Dream, then build.”
If we’re going to be about waiting - about anticipating the kingdom of God, about staying awake -- our mental, emotional, spiritual energy needs to be invested in looking for that day - looking for the signs that will herald a new season, dreaming about what peace between people looks and feels like, imaging reconciliation and liberation, practicing hope and resurrection, spending time in prayer and study, and taking steps so that we can see clearly because the gospel promises us that the kingdom is right around the corner...not that God will come down from the outside and rebuild in a show of force and might...but because God moves in hearts and spirits, drawing us forward, moving within and between and waking people up to repentance and to resist evil, oppression, and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.
There are ways to be ready and to practice this way of living in God’s dream in the here and now - what immediately comes to mind for me is a story I read this week from WGBH about a congregation near Boston - United Parish of Brookline - and the work they are doing in light of conversations around racism in their community.
One of the questions that arose for them was whether or not it was appropriate for them - as a predominantly white church - to sing Negro spirituals, especially as they were written by African people enslaved in America. There was growing discomfort around how to use them respectfully. The music director addressed this issue from the pulpit with the congregation - first by sharing that the term Negro Spirituals is the one preferred for these songs in many Black communities. Secondly she said that the church will begin the practice of collecting “royalties”; that whenever they sing Negro spirituals, they will collect an offering to support the development of Black musicians. They chose to donate these funds to a nonprofit youth music program in Roxbury, called Hamilton-Garrett Music and Arts, that is dedicated to teaching Negro spirituals to the next generation to carry on this tradition.
In the music industry, if you publish music, you are compensated every time your song is published and purchased. You buy music for your choir, the composer gets part of the profit. When you buy a CD - same thing. Whenever I play a track on Spotify, an artist gets compensated.
The problem is, however, the enslaved people who created this music were never rewarded for their art. So this is United Parish of Brookline’s way of making it right. It’s about putting their money where their mouth is in many ways, as they already have expressed deep commitments to the Black community in other ways.
This is one congregation’s way of stepping into God’s dream to begin addressing injustice in a way that builds up and empowers, that uses privilege to raise awareness and invest in communities that have experienced marginalization.
How can we keep awake to the reality around us - and step into building God’s dream for us here on the island? How can we live into that active, expectant hope that acknowledges both the world as it is and relentlessly pursues the world as God dreams it could be?
enfleshed writes, “We do not know the “day or the hour,” when the scales will tip, when the change of seasons will come, when the end of a destructive era will be the beginning of something new, but we wait, actively, with hope.”
End with this poem:
All in All
It takes strength to dream.
I imagine it’s that same strength that leads
people to say, “I love you” first,
Those three vulnerable words,
Wrapped in heart strings,
Because what could be
Is too good to keep quiet about.
It takes strength to choose joy.
It takes strength to push the covers
Off our weary bodies morning after morning,
To plant weary feet on solid ground,
And look for signs of beauty.
It takes strength to remember that
we are not alone,
But the story starts with bone of bone and
flesh of flesh.
That feels like so long ago.
It takes strength to dream.
I imagine that’s why many choose not to,
For it would be far easier to simply sleep.
But there are always those who dream,
Those who are up at night picturing
what could be,
Because this world is too good not to.
So we say, “I love you.”
We push the covers off.
We find solid ground.
We look for beauty.
And we dream.
We dare to dream.
written by: Rev. Sarah Are.
May we keep awake this Advent season - and dream God’s dream together. Amen.
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Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.