Chapter 5: Never Start a Funeral with Logistics: Commitment: Here I am, I am Here
See Creative Moment: Moment to capture people’s attention and imagination p. 170
22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’
Call to Worship:
God you called Abram and Sarai
And Abraham and Sarah said here I am Lord
God you walked with Ruth and Mara
And Ruth promised to Naomi: Your God will be my God
God your wrestled with Jacob
And Israel made peace with his brother Esau
God you are always present with us.
Here I am Lord, I am here with the lord, my God today.
Confession: Reflective Questions
What do we enjoy about gathering?
How is your prayer life Going?
Creative Activity: Write a Promise about how to be more fully present with God and Church, Present it to God (In offering or on the communion table or you can be more creative and hang them on a tree or weave them through threads)
Homework: Set aside a day for viewing people different. At the beginning of the day pray for all those who you are going to be in contact with that day in person, online, through the phone or however they may come. Ask God to help you think of each person you come in contact with for the next 24 hours as a messenger from God, either someone you can help/pray for os someone God can use to teach you something. Take notes for the day. At the end of the day ask the Holy Spirit if anyone on that list is someone you should be praying for intentionally or get to know better.
Study Verse: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’—Isaiah 3:8
Prayer of Dedication/the Day: Lord Jesus, thank you. All I have is yours. All I am is yours. Help me hand it to you. Amen. (Unbinding the Gospel p. 185)
Hymn Suggestions: Here I am Lord, Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door, O Jesus I Have Promised, Take My Life
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Lord, you bring glad tidings to the poor. Let us hear.
You heal the brokenhearted. Heal us too.
You free the prisoners from their jails. Free us from ourselves.
Loving God, please come to us, and send us out, forgiven, to the poor, the brokenhearted the imprisoned.
Hymn Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies, With th’angelic host proclaim: “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” Hark! The herald angels sing,“Glory to the newborn King!”
Christ by highest heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the Virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” (interlude)
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that we no more may die, Born to raise us from the earth, Born to give us second birth. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Call to Worship (Isaiah 9:2, John 8:12, Malachi 4:20)
One: The people who walk in darkness will see a great light
ALL: O Lord, be our light!
Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
O Lord, be our light!
Jesus said “I am the Light of the world; those who follow Me
will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
O Lord, be our light!
For you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise
with healing in its wings.
O Lord, be our light!
Call to Confession Jesus did not worry about what others thought.
He did not avoid conflict, but confronted head-on what needed to be changed. Let us confess how hard it is to do the same.
Prayer of Confession
God, sometimes we are more interested in the approval of others than in what you want us to do and be. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we play nice, avoiding conflict even when your gospel of love would call us to speak out. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we substitute a different kind of preaching for the preaching of good news that you offer the poor. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we preach a gospel of self-reliance instead of the freedom offered by your grace. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we want the blind to see the same way we do,
instead of taking the log out of our own eyes. Forgive us, Lord.
Sometimes we want the oppressed to just be a little more patient,
instead of letting them go free. Forgive us, Lord.
Assurance of Pardon
God offers us God’s very self, granting us grace and new life.
Thanks be to God for the Good News: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
Holy One, this Advent season we come with joy, and we give in love: Love in return for you loving us first,
Love experienced through your presence with us. Receive and use these gifts and our very lives
to share your love with the world.Amen.
Prayer for Illumination Joy to the World
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing.
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 61:1-11
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
5 Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; 6 but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. 7 Because theirshame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs.
8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
New Testament Lesson: Luke 4:16-21
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Sermon: What Do You Do While You’re Waiting?
Affirmation of Faith(John 1, NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines
in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Closing HymnGo Tell It On the Mountain
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born! (repeat chorus)
While shepherds kept their watching O’er silent flocks by night Behold throughout the heavens There shone a holy light
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born!
The shepherds feared and trembled When lo! Above the Earth Rang out the angel chorus That hailed our Savior’s birth
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born!
Barb’s sister Beth started posting numbers in decreasing order on her facebook without explanation. Eventually it became clear that she was counting down to the beginning of Advent. It is not unusual for people to count down to Christmas, which is a big event, but Advent is typically considered a time of waiting… waiting and anticipating Christmas. So I asked, rather incredulously, “So are you waiting for when you will start waiting?” And she laughingly said “That’s right.”
But now that we are in the midst of Advent, is it a time of waiting and anticipating? Or is it something more than waiting and anticipating? Mr. Rogers used to sing a song on his TV show “What do you DO while you’re waiting…while you’re waiting for something else to do?” The scriptures today lead me to believe he was actually saying something profound about Advent, because it was not sufficient to say we are just “waiting.” Just waiting is boring and difficult. Barb and I stood outside in a line with masks on six feet away from others waiting to be allowed into an outdoor market where the number of buyers were strictly limited. We were anticipating what we would find and could not leave the line or we would lose our place. It reminded me of when I work with young children who have a terrible time waiting and I tell them “waiting is hard, but it is part of growing up.” But Mr. Rogers points to an important difference between waiting while doing nothing, and DOING something while waiting. For him, and in the scriptures today, waiting is a time to DO something. A time perhaps, to truly prepare for the event we are waiting for.
The Isaiah passage was likely written upon the return of the Israelites from exile. They faced the rebuilding of a crumbled society. They needed to rethink how government was done, how education was done, how gatherings were done, how family was done. 2020 was also a year of exile, a year of crumbling infrastructure. So, first in Isaiah, and then in Luke we hear a challenge for what we could do while we’re waiting… waiting for Christmas, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for a New Year, waiting for a new, reconstituted life together to begin.
This Advent, this waiting time is an opportunity to DO while we wait and anticipate all these new events. In Isaiah, the power to DO comes from the Spirit that falls upon him. In Luke, Jesus proclaims that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And indeed, we believe that the Spirit of God has already fallen upon all the people God claims as God’s own… that includes you and me.
So the Scripture begins by telling us that we have the power, and the responsibility to DO the work we are called to do while we wait for Christmas, while we wait for a vaccine, while we wait for a new reconstituted life together, while we wait for the New Year. What do WE DO while WE are waiting?
TODAY this scripture is fulfilled in our hearing! The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because the Lord has anointed us…eventually it specifies that this anointing of the Lord has “named ministers of our God.” We are ALL anointed by the Spirit and we are ALL ministers of our God, so we have a ministry to DO while we’re waiting.
The ministry we are called to is a ministry that captures and embodies the Spirit of Christmas. We are anointed to preach GOOD NEWS to the poor. But this is not empty preaching that smiles and says things will be fine, this is GOOD NEWS accompanied by action, by what we ministers are DOING while we are waiting. It is the work we are challenged to DO now, and it’s a pretty tall order (good thing we are all named ministers so “many hands can make light work).
We are to reach out to the brokenhearted and bind them up with our support. The brokenhearted whose lives have been crushed, whose losses have been so great, who were so ravaged by this past year of exile. Can we think of at least one person whose heart has been broken by this past year? Can we accept the challenge to reach out and help bind up their broken heart while we are waiting?
We are to offer a release from darkness to those imprisoned by the circumstances of their lives. Poverty imprisons some, hunger imprisons some, addiction imprisons some, bondage to sin imprisons some. Can we offer the light of Christ as we provide tangible help instead of feeling repulsed or judgmental to those whose life prisons have shrouded them in darkness? Can we contribute tangible help for some imprisoned person while we are waiting?
We are to comfort those who mourn. We don’t need to force a “merry” happiness on those who are grieving. Can we reach out to someone who just can’t celebrate this Christmas and offer a listening ear, a loving heart, and comfort for them in their mourning while we are waiting?
We are called to rebuild the ruins of our society and restore the gatherings long devasted. Do we dare to look beyond individuals and extend the work of our shared ministry to acknowledge the brokenness and devastation all around us? Brokenness caused by greed, devastation caused by bigotry, racism, and injustice. Can we reach out in even one small way to rebuild and restore a society that rejects the devastation while we are waiting?
We are waiting but we are not waiting alone. We are waiting with so many other ministers anointed by God. And we are waiting and ABLE TO DO because the Spirit of the Lord, the true Spirit of Christmas is upon us while we are waiting.
And the hope that is promised is a hope fulfilled by the work of God through our meager actions as God’s ministers. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the hope is that God’s faithfulness WILL reward us with an everlasting covenant. And together we will proclaim the New Year, the year we are waiting for, a year of God’s favor!
The book of Exodus, telling the story of the freeing of God’s people from slavery, begins about four hundred years after the story of Joseph, saying: “Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” This new king, as you may recall, feels threatened by the Hebrew people who have grown great in numbers, and he seeks to subdue them. He enslaves them and then embarks on a campaign to break them by increasing their workload and punishments. When this doesn’t work, he orders that all newborn Hebrew male babies be drowned in the river.
This is when Moses’ mother puts him in a basket and floats him down that same river, where the pharaoh’s daughter rescues him. She even hires Moses’ mother to be his wet nurse! After he is raised by the daughter of the pharaoh, Moses kills an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite-a death penalty crime. He flees to Midian, where he marries Zipporah. Through the miracle of the burning bush, God calls Moses to return to Israel to free the Hebrew people from slavery. But Pharaoh does not listen to Moses, and Egypt is subjected to nine plagues: the water was turned to blood; then there were frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, a thunderstorm of hail, locusts and darkness for three days. And now, as described in today’s passages about the Passover, the tenth plagues: the death of the firstborn of all living things.
This particular plague echoes the killing of all of the male children of the Hebrews ordered by the pharaoh. By the deaths of the firstborn among the people and the animals, God upends the power of pharaoh. By passing over the houses of the Hebrew people marked by the blood of the Lamb, God indicates who his people are. And the pharaoh finally (momentarily) relents and lets God’s people go only to try to chase them down to bring them back, resulting in the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.
Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, depicted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as taking place at the time of the Passover, resound loudly here. Jesus takes the role of the Passover Lamb, providing the blood that makes God pass over our sins.
The upshot of both the story of the Exodus, and of Jesus at the Last Supper, is that God is the God of freedom. God is about the business of freeing God’s people. That freedom is not limited to people’s spirits, but includes freeing people from all kinds of oppression.
God stopped the genocide of the Hebrew people and then freed them from their oppression. God demands justice for those who do not have power: for the widows, the orphans, the strangers, the poor. God takes action on the side of the oppressed against the powerful, confronting those who sit in power.
While the phrase “speaking truth to power” was part of the Quaker call to non-violence in the 1950s, you could say this is something the prophets have done all along—and it is what Moses did when he said, “Let my people go.”
Belonging to God means serving as God’s voice, joining Moses in saying, “Let my people go,” raising up issues of oppression and injustice wherever they arise. Serving God means serving, as Jesus said, “the least of these.”
How do we serve God by serving the least of these?
Serving starts by listening
(When Len was in his first pastorate, we got a phone call from a lady who said “Is this the pastor who listens?”—a feat so rare that it brought a stranger to us via the telephone.
Listening means that I do not tell you what your experience is
I let you tell me what your experience is
The fact that it’s different from mine reinforces that it’s your experience
Listening means I don’t necessarily try to solve your problem, esp. if that is not what you are asking me to do. Listening may just mean—listening.
That’s a hard one for me—our kids know if they want a list of suggestions, call Mom. If you want someone to just listen, call Dad.
Can I say, “Do you want to know what I think?” and accept if the person says no?
A Korean-born friend of mine recently (once again) went through a set of circumstances in which she was ignored
The professional accomplishments she reported were not included in the newsletter
The gift from the company for those working at home was not sent to her house
The donations list put down her donation as 1/5 of what she’d given
And while she has been asked to serve on her company’s committee to address racism, she feels, especially in light of her experiences, that this means she is being asked to solve something over which she has no power.
But when she raises this list of occurrences, she is told that these are just details and that nothing was meant by it. She is, essentially, told that her experience is not valid; that no one wants to hear it and she should get over it.
But the devil is in those details
The very act of dismissing her experience is itself oppressive
The inability to hear her pain is itself an indication of how far astray the system has gone
We didn’t mean it, so you shouldn’t be hurt
But if they didn’t mean it, why don’t they fix it? Why don’t they change things?
When we are little, we are taught,
what do you say when you hurt someone?
And, even more so, what do you say when you hurt someone accidentally?
But we can’t, we don’t, do it
Instead we tell the one who is hurt
that they are wrong, they aren’t hurt,
that it doesn’t count,
that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter,
that they are making a stink over nothing,
that they should get over it,
that they should say it better, differently, at another time, to another person because right now we just want them keep quiet, to shut up, about it.
When we do these things, how can we argue that we are on God’s side?
How do we (better) serve
the God who hears the people’s cry,
the God who frees his people?
For all God’s people to be free, we should listen to all God’s people
Instead of pre-judging your experience to make it fit what I already think,
I can listen–
I can listen—we can listen even when we don’t want to hear
Actually, that is the most important time to listen
Because it means we are being told something
we won’t discover on our own,
because we don’t/can’t/won’t see it.
God calls the Israelites to remember
to celebrate Passover
to teach the children
to be compassionate to the strangers among them
Being compassionate to those who are hurting means listening
When someone talks about sexual abuse or sexual harassment
we can listen
When someone talks about the challenges and problems of police work
we can listen
When someone talks about police brutality and oppression,
we can listen
When someone talks about being white in America,
we can listen
When someone talks about being a minority in America,
we can listen
When someone talks about being sick, we can listen.
When someone talks about being old, we can listen.
When someone talks about being poor, we can listen
When someone talks about what they need, we can listen.
No, really, we can!
In addition to listening, I am doing some little thin.
One of the things I am doing is wearing my new justice T-shirts
In support of black people who are experiencing racism
When I’m deciding whether or not I want to wear those T-shirts,
I realize, isn’t it nice to be able to decide?
Aren’t I privileged that I can decide that today I don’t want to deal
with injustice, with equal rights, with standing up for others
People of color don’t get to choose not to deal today
Every day, everywhere they go, racism may greet them
But I can decide I just don’t want to go there today
When I say I am doing “little things,” in part what I mean is
that I have found some things I can do and I am doing them.
I am doing these little things to try to make the world better.
And if lots and lots of people do little things, they add up…
After you have listened, find one little thing to do in solidarity with others
And do it.
Because, like my Asian friend noted,
Racism has to be solved by everyone
And especially by those for whom race isn’t usually an issue
In solidarity with those who don’t get to choose if today they want to go there/be there/address this or not
And the God of freeing the slaves in Israel be with you and empower you.