SERMON Advent 3B 12-17-17 Lamb of God Lutheran Episcopal Church, Fort Myers
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Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
Hope and Comfort but now, a challenge and a call to action!
Hope, prayer, and action … “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thess. 5:23-24) Last week, we heard comforting words about God’s promises of hope, even in the midst of troubling times. In the excerpt we hear today from Paul’s letter to the Church in Thessalonica, he, like the prophet Isaiah emphasizes God’s faithfulness to his creation, even in the dark valleys, and winding roads of life. Paul wrote, “God calls us, God is faithful, and God does what God promises to do.” That is the way of the Kingdom of God, “word and action.”
Now we are more than mere recipients of Divine Assurances, those promises; those words that define God’s Kingdom in our midst. The Apostle Paul tells us that we the church have an essential role in the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. We too are called to “word and action.” How? First, we are called to prayer, but then we are called to move out and engage. Our partnership with God’s Kingdom originates in holy conversation with God, a listening for the Spirit in prayer as she guides and directs our paths as individuals and as a community. Prayer is transformative; it clarifies our path, and it forms the community both in its mission and beliefs.
“Lex Orandi Lex Credendi” is a motto in Christian tradition (a Latin phrase) that means, “the law of prayer, the law of believing.” In other words, it means, “our prayers, shape our beliefs.” Prayer changes us. How we pray and what we pray, shapes what we believe to be God’s truth. Centuries of prayers and rituals, help to shape our beliefs about faith. Reciprocally, centuries of belief about God’s love, help to shape how we pray.
Prayer is more than words; it is a transformative conversation that shapes our path of discipleship. Take the Lord’s Prayer for example. “Our Father in heaven,” “your will be done,” “forgive us as we forgive others.” The Lord’s Prayer is more than a repetitious historical prayer that we say each Sunday during communion; it is one of the prayers that shape our belief about God, about our relationship with God, and about our relationship with one another.
We are changed when we pray for one another, when we pray in gratitude and thanksgiving, and when we pray for God’s kingdom to be present in the world right here, and right now. First we pray, and then we act.
The church was formed to partner with God to enact the Kingdom of love.
The church was formed to partner with God to enact the Kingdom of love, and Jesus set the example for us.
“The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent me to announce the year of his grace.” (Isaiah 16:1-4)
This excerpt from the writings of the Prophet Isaiah was the inauguration speech of Jesus’ mission on earth. Jesus read it in his own hometown synagogue right after the 40 days in the desert, and right before he set off on his ministry. Luke’s gospel records that after reading these words, Jesus “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He then declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus prophetically announced to the folks in his own hometown and beyond, that God’s mission of reconciliation, Jesus’ mission to carry it out in the world was happening right then and there. Then, Jesus went out and did it.
Despite the risk of failure, the certainty of rejection, and the threat of death, Jesus did not waiver at the prospect of fulfilling the promises of God’s mission of reconciliation and peace. As disciples, we are sent out to do the same notwithstanding potential perils. Most of us are gifted for action, and some go beyond being a prayer warrior in this mission of God. We are the church, and we have a job to do.
Our Part in God’s Mission is Word and Action!
Thomas Merton, one of my favorite modern theologians once wrote, “in our mechanical age, all words have become alike, they’ve all been reduced to the level of the commercial. To say ‘God is love’ is like saying ‘Eat Wheaties.” (3) I imagine Merton could have referred to other advertising phrases as well: “Just do it,” “Designed for driving pleasure,” “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” or “America Runs on Dunkins.” A recent American Marketing Association article asserts that we Americans are exposed to over 10,000 brand messages per day.(2) There are so many empty promises of personal fulfillment being made out there today, and I am afraid the Good News is getting lost in the sea of brand messages.
If we bearers of Good News do not enact Good News in our lives, the Gospel will become just another empty promise in the sea of words. The Church has a job to do, and our lives may be the only Gospel that people ever read.
Here is another way to look at it. Some of you have heard the phrase, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” This quote has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but one source asserts that his actual quote was this, “All the Friars . . . should preach by their deeds.” Now, although we are not friars, I think the charge from St. Francis applies to us all. We all should “preach by our deeds.” It’s something we promised to do.
We promise to proclaim Good News by word and action
God makes promises, but so do we. In the baptismal rite found in both the Lutheran and Episcopal, but also in other traditions, we promise, “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” This baptismal promise is much more than empty words said as a part of a rite of passage. Our promises at baptism, are the basis of the mission we have in the world.
God in Christ Jesus showed up in the world, and showed us the way of love. Christ calls us, like him, to enact his promises in all we say and do. We must first hear the promises of God, internalize them, enact them in prayer, trust them in our daily lives, and then allow those promises to transform us in action and love.
How can we say, “I believe God is with us,” but then live as if we have no hope. We all are people traveling in the wilderness, all of us, each from different backgrounds, ethnicities, social status, and all traversing the road of life. Our words become the enactment of that hope by how we love others, how we care for the least, lost and lonely, and how we make choices to be witnesses of Christ’s love each and every day with our fellow sojourners, and those not yet on the road.
Now I know that Lamb of God Church “walks the talk.” You all have been actively engaged in Christ’s mission of love for many years. This community has served, and does serve God’s least, lost, and lonely through ministries like: “Feeding the 5000,” “Guadalupe Center of Immokalee,” “Interfaith Charities,” “Jesus Birthday Tree,” “Knitting for Peace,” “Lamb of God Thrift Shop,” and so many more ministries. My sisters and brothers you all shine brightly allowing God’s grace to fill you to overflowing.
Let me offer some encouragement as you move forward in this time of uncertainty, ambiguity, transition, and change. Let me also offer a challenge, continue to pray at every opportunity both individually and corporately. Keep being a lighthouse of God’s grace to Estero, San Carlos, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and beyond. Keep living in hope. I ask you to ponder over the next weeks and months this question, “What can each one of you as gifted and empowered individuals do, to enact the Kingdom of God each and every day, both by your words and by your actions?” As you pray and seek the answer, remember that the church has a job to do, which is:
“The Spirit of God, the Master, is on (us) because God anointed us. He sent (us) to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent (us) to announce the year of his grace.” (Isaiah 16:1-4)
1 Norris, Kathleen. “Standing on Promises.” The Christian Century, vol. 122, no. 24, 29 Nov. 2005, p. 21.