Monday, December 9, 2019

December 8, 2019
The Second Sunday of Advent
(Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12)
Although The New Interpreter’s Bible says “Few texts in biblical literature are better known or loved” than Isaiah 11:1-10, it’s unlikely that this reading has left you quivering with excitement. In fact, you could argue that it’s a ridiculous exaggeration. At most, you probably simply remember as being one of the passages most often read during the Advent and/or Christmas season.
There are a few texts that are surely “better known or loved” than this obscure text in Isaiah, like say:
• Psalm 23
• The story of creation
• Moses and the parting of the Red Sea
• The Ten Commandments
• David and Bathsheba
• David and Goliath
• The story of Ruth
• The story of Jericho
• The nativity story in Luke 2
• To name a few!
So, what’s to be done with this text? People today probably don’t care that Jesus came from the stump of Jesse.
But some people care about stumps. George Kenny of Allyn, Washington, for example.  
Kenny is an artist, but to see his work, you may want to put on a pair of hiking boots. That’s because his “brush” is a chainsaw and his canvases are tree stumps and trunks.
About a year ago, Kenny spent a day at Columbia Springs, a 100-acre environmental center in Vancouver, Washington. He’d been invited by the center’s executive director to make art of some of the stumps and trunks in the site’s forest. Using his chainsaw as a carving tool, Kenny spent the day making seven chunks of dead cedar into eagles, owls, herons, salmon and other figures, all of which remain on site in the woods.
Figuratively, at least, the dead wood comes alive again.
I recall some years ago when I would go to the San Diego Zoo at Christmas time for their annual “Jungle Bells” program. They had these two talented ladies that would use chainsaws to cut gigantic blocks of ice into various animals. They would do the performances in entertaining ways and had a knack for managing to create them in such a way as to keep you guessing until nearly the end.
In the Isaiah text, there’s a dead tree stump or gigantic block of ice as well, but the prophet tells us that God is going to do some awesome art with it … messianic art.
Isaiah’s message here is basically this, that Isaiah’s words about the next king were to say, “Here’s our immediate hope,” and his words about the peaceable future were to say, “Here’s our ultimate hope.”
Congregations are not that different from the Hebrews of Isaiah’s day when it comes down to it.
• Assyria is long gone, but terrorists abound.
• The United States is not under a king, but its political system, with its vicious partisanship, can, at best, be described as gridlocked. (Although, our current president wants to be treated as a king.)
• Few people these days see government as a very effective apparatus for the common good.
• Each day, there’s more bad news. Millions of people don’t even follow the news anymore, and many who do refuse to check the news before going to bed so their sleep is not disturbed.
Our hopes are raised periodically by the promises from new and rising political stars. But then our hopes are crushed by the reality that follows elections.
Like the ancient people of Judah, we can benefit from being reminded of the ultimate hope.
After Jesus was crucified and resurrected, the Apostles read Isaiah through a new lens. They looked at the first part of this passage and saw not Ahaz’s successor, Hezekiah, who was a better man and a better king than Ahaz — although even he eventually disappointed Isaiah by becoming too friendly with the Babylonians.
No, they argued that the only one who really fulfilled this text was much further down Jesse’s line, Jesus Christ. Thus Paul, preaching to fellow Jews on one of his missionary trips, referred to their common history and said, “God made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘Then he removed him and raised up David as their king; of him he testified, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.’ From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus...” (Acts 13:22-23).
The lineage from Jesse, which is not very important to us today, was super-important to the Jews of Jesus’ day because it was a reference to Isaiah. The savior to come, Isaiah said, would be from Jesse’s line. So, as people began to suspect that Jesus was the messiah, the fact that he was “of the house and lineage of David” was huge!
Isaiah went on to say that when this new “shoot” from Jesse reigns, “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat ... They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.” Clearly, this is a world quite unlike today’s world. And that’s exactly right: it’s another world altogether, another kingdom entirely.
But this is the nature of hope, isn’t it? Biblically speaking, hope, along with faith and love, make up the “big three” of Christianity. They are the things that the apostle Paul said remain, and have enduring quality, when all else fails. “And now faith, hope and love abide,” is how he put it, and he meant that when looking for the qualities that are distilled from the experience of the believing life together, these three things — faith, hope and love — are the solid footing on which to stand, even if seen only darkly as through a distorting glass.
Real hope is not some sort of wishful thinking that those with strong enough gumption muster up from some inner core. No, it is rather an ultimate belief that when all else fails, when every other support gives way, our lives remain in God’s hands.
And so we wait. And this can be difficult. I know some of you were questioning my belief in hope in 2017 and again this year in regard to the rectory. It can be quite difficult, and sometimes even the best of us flinch in hope. Let me be clear …. Being positive or negative is indeed a state of mind, however one is never truly “negative” unless he has given up hope in Christ. Regardless of negativities in regard to say our government, a particular person or situation, one can still be a positive person and even have hope. To have no hope is give up on life and the blessings God can grace us with.
Debie Thomas, director of children's and family ministries at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California makes this point: “The Biblical pattern for God’s people is a pattern of waiting. Adam waited for a partner, Noah waited for the flood waters to recede, Abraham waited for a son, Jacob waited to marry Rachel, Hannah waited for children, the Israelites waited for deliverance… the list goes on and on. ... In my church, we ‘proclaim the mystery of faith’ every Sunday morning: ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’ We rightfully pin our hopes on that last claim, and yet, in our humanness, we grow weary of waiting.”
Like Kenny in Washington, working on his stump, it takes time before the image emerges, but in time it does.
What we see in Scripture is an emerging picture of Jesus of Nazareth, our ultimate hope.
And this hope gives a perspective from which to view the threats and worries of life. Isaiah’s words remind us that those things are never the last word. Our hope is anchored in Jesus, the living art from the stump of Jesse.
Let’s take that hope and use it to sustain ourselves when the threats and worries of life rage or stump us.
Let us pray.
In today’s Gospel we read of John the Baptist – A Voice Cries in the Wilderness, Prepare a way for the Lord, Make His paths straight. In today’s world this message is also an appeal to us. We pray that we be not silent onlookers but that we have the faith and strength to be true and active witnesses to his Word. We pray to the Lord.                
In today’s Second Reading, St Paul calls for tolerance and asks us to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated us. We pray for an end to racism and the language of racism in our society. We pray to the Lord.                    
On Tuesday next, December 10th, the world celebrates International Human Rights Day. We pray for a world that will respect the God-given rights of all, especially those who suffer from hatred, discrimination, poverty and war. We pray to the Lord.                    
Tomorrow, Monday, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We pray that we, like Mary, listen to the word of our God and happily do his Holy Will. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for those who struggle with depression at this time of year. May they find comfort, love and medical support to ease their journey through their difficulties. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.                  
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, how do we see for the first time a story we've read so many times? Give us new perspective. Help us not to assume we know all there is to know, but to open our hearts and minds to your Spirit and the new truth you may be teaching us today. Perhaps the truth will not be new, but a lesson we've heard and simply need to be reminded of again. Wherever it is you are leading, let us be willing to follow. Whatever it is you want to teach, let us be open to listening and obeying. We confess to you, O God, that we have fallen asleep. We often go through the motions and live our daily lives without much thought outside of ourselves. Forgive us for our shortsightedness. Forgive us for not being awake to the wonders and signs that you are doing something new in our world and in our lives. Help us to seek you in the face of others. Call us into your ways of love and justice, so that we might be fully awake, watching and waiting for your return in our world and in our lives in a new way. Help us to live in hope! We ask all these things through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
http://www.stfrancisucc.org/donate.html

Monday, December 2, 2019

December 1, 2019
Advent Sunday
(Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 27:37-44)
Imagine this -- It's been a long, exhausting day filled with work, obligations, meetings, errands and responsibilities. You were up early and plowed through your "to do" list at work, then you got the kids to their activities and threw some sandwiches together to eat on the run. Eventually, you made it home only to find more chores to do. Finally, the day comes to an end, and what do you want to do? Fall into bed, relax as your eyes get heavy, and gently slip into a deep, refreshing sleep. It's Serta time!

But wait! Sound the alarm! Jesus says in our text today, "Stay awake!" Even as we struggle to keep our eyes open for one more moment, Jesus seems to scoff at sleep as he commands us to keep alert and to be ready. Jesus seems to be telling us to be "insomniac disciples." He says, "Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

Apparently, there is no rest for the weary. What is a sleep-deprived Christian supposed to do?

How are we meant to stay awake when we already live in one of the most sleep-hungry nations in the world? Our 24/7 society with its endless supply of news, social media and entertainment on-demand allows us to stay up way past our bedtimes as we enjoy games on our phones or watch endless videos on YouTube/Netflix. The lack of sleep is taking a toll. Employers in the United States complain about workers who doze off in front of their computers or who even fall asleep while operating machinery, which endangers them and everyone around them. Job performance is suffering because workers show up overtired. And now Jesus wants us to "stay awake" even longer?! How are we supposed to do that?

We could turn to Toimi Soini in Hamina, Finland who was in the Guinness Book of World Records. She stayed awake 276 hours. In 1989, The Guinness Book of World Records deleted Toimi's record and the "sleep deprivation" category from its record-keeping because of the concern that lack of sleep can cause real harm.

Two hundred and seventy-six hours is about 11-and-a-half days! Most of us are getting weary after 11-and-a-half hours. Which is a good thing, because scientists tell us that sleep is a vital component of overall good health for humans. Although scientists don't know exactly why sleep is good for us, they know why the lack of it is bad for us. Skipping sleep can lead to loss of memory, high blood pressure, obesity, slurred speech, impaired decision-making ability, and an increased risk of heart attacks. (Hmmm, I should be dead.)

So why is Jesus telling us to stay awake?

Well, okay. We know that Jesus is not literally commanding a lack of pillow time. Instead, Jesus is saying, "Wake up! Look around! Be aware!"

He wants us to not go through life like a sleepwalker, without seeing or noticing what's going on all around us. It's time for us to open not only our eyes, but also our spirits so that we can be aware of how God is moving and guiding us through our lives.

Jesus is warning against being "asleep at the switch," an expression that originated in the railroad industry. It refers to someone who has missed something important, has not noticed some critical detail or who might be placing themselves or others in danger because of a lack of attention. If an engineer dozes off while tending the switches (controls) that guide the train, it could easily cause a crash. It's vital to "stay awake."

Jesus calls us to attention with his urgent message, "Stay awake!" so that we will be ready to respond to the needs around us. We need to stay alert so that we can notice God at work in our midst. Advent is a time to wake up our spirits so that we can be aware of God's presence in our lives.

Maybe Jesus is not so much telling us to never shut our eyes as to avoid closing down our spirits. We can easily move through our day as though in a dream. We can interact with screens from morning to night while completely avoiding any interaction with another human being, not to mention the Holy One. We can be plugged into one device or another and fill our eyes and minds with news and images, never leaving room for a whisper of the Spirit or a nudge from a guiding and loving God. We can be lulled into complacency by watching endless loops of music videos or reruns of our favorite TV shows. We immerse ourselves in an ocean of blogs that invite us to click from one link to another. Minutes and even hours can go by before we realize that this was perhaps not the best use of our time. In an age when it is possible to have your eyes glued to some screen or another almost 24/7, it may be time to wake up to other possibilities.

Jesus commands us to be watchful and to expect the unexpected. Jesus talks about a God who will surprise us by coming when we're not looking or arriving in a guise that we do not expect. This powerful Advent passage reminds us to be aware that the God who came into the world as a baby so many years ago still wishes to enter our lives today. Too often we find ourselves with the innkeepers who turn away the Christ with the words, "no room." Our minds are full, our calendars are packed, our expectations are low, so we're not actively looking and seeking for the living Christ in our midst. We're too busy and our minds are too occupied; without even noticing we push Jesus away.

Advent comes with the invitation to open our hearts and minds to the arrival of the Christ. If Jesus knocks on the door of our lives, we want to be awake enough to invite him inside. Churches often get lulled into the complacency of "we have always done it that way." Are we going through life the same way? Are we actively looking for the Christ in the person that we greet at the store or on the street or even in our home? Will we be alert enough to recognize the surprising Christ who arrived not in a palace but in a tucked-away manger? How will the Christ come to us, and will we recognize him when he does? What can we do during Advent to be more intentional about welcoming the Christ into our lives?

Just as employers implore their workers to make changes in their lives so that they can be more alert during office hours, Jesus calls us to be aware of the changes we need to make in our lives.

What miracles are we missing simply because we are too distracted to notice? What blessings are we passing by because our minds are consumed with endless details? Are we blindly stumbling through our lives unaware of God's presence all around us?

Jesus is nudging our souls awake and asking us to open our eyes to what is true -- God is breaking into the world. Advent reminds us of the Emmanuel, the Good News that God is with us. Advent can be a time of increased awareness.

We aren't college students -- Jesus isn't telling us to break out the coffee, energy drinks and NoDoz so that we can pull an all-nighter. He is instead calling us and inviting us to be aware both of the needs all around us and of the presence of the living God to help us offer support to those in need. It is a call to action today – to wake up -- now instead of tomorrow. Let's not sleep our lives away but instead roll up our sleeves and answer the call to share the hope of God-with-us.

The extraordinary good news of Advent is that God chooses to be with us. God enters into our world desiring a relationship with us. The bad news is that we are often unaware of this miracle. The season of Advent can be a time when we take Jesus' call to "wake up" to heart. We can turn off our computer and tear ourselves away from email so that we can look for God in the people and the places all around us.

Here is a plan for Advent: Be ready, be awake and look for the God who promises to come to us.
Let us pray.
We are reminded by Jesus in today’s gospel that we should always be awake, for we never know when our loving Father will call us to Him. We pray, Lord, that in our busy lives we always remain alert and be prepared to listen to Your voice and carry out Your holy will. We pray to the Lord.                      
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, reminding us that preparation should begin for Christmas. We pray that our preparation be a spiritual one and that our real joy be in celebrating the coming of Christ, our Savior. We pray to the Lord.                    
As we enter into the season of Advent, we look forward in Hope to the birth of our Savior, that he, through his coming, will offer us the means of salvation and life everlasting. We pray to the Lord.                        
Lord Jesus, during Advent, in hope and confidence we pray that you grant us the wisdom, the time, energy and foresight to review how we each live our life – with our family, our friends, our community, our work and most importantly, with our God.  We pray to the Lord.                      
As we enter a new season for our Church, we pray for those who have been disillusioned through scandal, disappointment or indifference, that their relationship with our loving Savior be renewed afresh. We pray to the Lord.                      
During this Week of Witness, we pray for Christians throughout the world who continue to be attacked, displaced and murdered for their faith. We pray that they be comforted in their daily lives with Christ’s gift of courage, the grace of witness and the promise of salvation. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor and hungry, who often are neglected during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that they may be cared for and provided for throughout the year. We pray to the Lord.

For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.                  
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Merciful God, we long for and need the presence of Christ in our lives. We long for a holy visitation but confess that we are too distracted to notice when it arrives. We long for peace but confess that we will not be still long enough to greet it. We long for the joy of new babies and angelic choirs but confess that we are too frantic to stop and look and listen. Forgive us, Lord. Forgive our misplaced priorities that crowd you out of our Advent worship and our lives. Renew in us a desire for you above all else. You call us to prepare, gracious Savior -- to prepare to entertain angels, to be alert to wait and watch, to be awake for the coming of glory, to receive your presence in our lives. Send your Spirit upon us, we pray, that we might be made ready to open our hearts and lives with gladness. Fill us with the joy of anticipation and make our waiting a sweet time of communion with you. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA