Tony E Dillon Hansen
A Sermon based upon Mark 13:24-37, Psalm 80 and Isaiah 64:1-9
Gracious friends and neighbors of St John United Church of Christ,
Let us first be in prayer, "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight."
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy First Sunday of Advent!!!
Ah! The time of year has arrived when we take time to be thankful, enjoy fruits of harvest, enjoy the many traditions – and snow. This year is different; with surging spread of the pandemic, we have to be honest and have to be safe. Yes, we can be thankful.
Why are we thankful amidst a pandemic that has all of us stressed and fatigued? As we explored in worship for times like these, there are opportunities yet for us to explore, and we can embrace the gifts that we have, the food on the table, the drink we share, the symbols that mean something, and staying in touch with our community. Let your fears rest and find comfort in where you are - in the Truth and in grace of Emmanuel!
I know many of us have cherished traditions that are being interrupted, but I submit to you to be creative in your traditions this year so that you can safely experience what we all seek – to see each other in church as soon as possible.
New Church Year
Today, we begin the lectionary Year B and read from Psalm 80 and Mark 13. Let us witness “Hope” as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Holy One as the first of the four traditional themes of Advent. Isn’t hope something we truly need in these fatiguing times?
Opportunity for beginnings, renewals, and reflections.
We light the first candle for Advent with prayerful hope for the miracle. Radio stations are playing favorite holiday songs (since the beginning of November actually). Lights have gone up all around our neighborhood. Some traditions remain even though some have been impacted.
Mark 13 paints the picture of revelations and tells us to be alert and watching for the arrival. We see the hope that rides from out of darkness bringing the power and glory of the One. That is where we find mighty hope in this text.
Kind of like the hope in Patrick Mahomes with 1:43 left to go in the game.
Hope Is Optimistic
Hope is a powerful antidote for what we are experiencing today with pandemics, changed traditions, and political stress. It is the necessary element that enables us to walk into the future with some level of confidence. Hope is optimistic.
Yet, hope needs some things to flourish, as Loreena McKinnett said, so that we might live in our life today and make the most of our present moments.
Hope Needs Work
Hope needs action; otherwise, as therapist Ginger Sullivan says, it is “passivity.” This speaks directly to our lesson from last week. We talked last week about how we see Jesus and God, and that we have opportunities to grow and do God’s work. As Prof. Joy J. Moore says, “We do God’s work until God comes.” Hope needs attention, practice and action. We are called as practicing Christians to do God’s work.
This speaks to Isaiah 64:8 that we are the clay and the work of our potter, even though today feels more like no one is calling upon our God. It might seem like that with quiet church sanctuary and hall, but people are praying, attending this worship, and that is hopeful. When we call upon God to help us and guide through these times, we will get an answer.
But if you don’t lift a finger, don’t pray, don’t attend worship, hope has zero chance. Thomas Merton writes about the idea that “contemplative life …cannot be a mere withdrawal, a pure negation, a turning of one’s back on the world with its sufferings, its crises, its confusions, and its errors.” That means we have to be present with God and God in us. We pray and do.
With the heaviness of this past year, we can do our part to be the grace in people’s lives by simply letting them know we care and are here. We bring that Christmas promise into our communities when we clothe the needy, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick or imprisoned.
Hope without practice changes and decays into denial. A spirit becomes ruled by cynical views of our world. It can lead us to think there is nothing we can do to make things better when there is, in fact, something we can do.
Hope Needs Faith and Trust
Thus, hope also needs trust and faith that things will work out. Hope without trust and faith is despair and misery. We don’t have to wallow in misery and suffering because with hope, with God, we will do better, and it starts with a prayer. For that, we must be willing to look beyond our own suffering (as immense as that may feel) and trust in the One. With hope, we have faith that today will be a good day and tomorrow has even more promise.
Hope involves understanding our limitations; that we fall short and need the grace and perfection of our Creator. As Isaiah 64 reminds us, we are unclean with sickness; we may feel we have lost the way; but God is there and will forgive and guide us from our fall. That is honest evaluation of what we have, have done and can do.
Otherwise, we are living in folly and fiction. Simply, I cannot control what I cannot control, but I can be present. That is the essence of the serenity prayer and also a measure of trust and faith that McKennitt says hope needs. It is ok to realize my limits while also letting go of things that I do not control. Perhaps then, we let God work in us and do some amazing things.
Fig Tree Will Blossom
Still, we might ask “when Lord when?” As a gardener, the lesson of the fig tree reminds us that the fruit of the fig tree blossoms on its own time, not ours. It will blossom.
It is up to us to be watchful. We are present. We pray to be restored, to be healed, and to be freed from suffering. We fulfill our hope with some action, some trust and faith.
Remember, as we get closer to the holidays, stress will rise. Be present, take time for yourself, breathe and take one step at a time. Know that our Creator, I and all of your fellow congregants are with you. Reach out as needed.
Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is also available for people.
Find hope in your prayers, your devotion, and your treasured traditions that you keep. Find possibility and opportunity to grow in your hope - and be renewed, restored.
Let hope be with you as we celebrate the arrival and presence of Our Lord.
Thanks be to God!