|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
|➤Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 11, 2016||Third Sunday of Advent, Year A||Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11|
|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
|Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||November 13, 2016||Proper 28, Year C||Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19|
|Charles Sydnor’s sermon, Nov. 6, 2016, All Saints||November 6, 2016||All Saints, Year C||Luke: 6: 20-31|
|Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 30, 2016||Proper 26, Year C||Isaiah 1:10-18, Psalm 32, Luke 19:1-10|
|Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||October 23, 2016||Proper 25, Year C||II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14|
Third Sunday in Advent, Year A
Sermon Date:December 11, 2016
Scripture: Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11
Liturgy Calendar: Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
“Jesus and John in a mosaic at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
In today’s gospel, King Herod has put John the Baptist in prison because John has spoken the truth about the corruption in Herod’s family.
Luke puts it this way in his gospel, in Chapter 3, verses 18 and 19.
“There was a lot more of this Good News that John was proclaiming to the people—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message! But Herod, the ruler, stung by John’s rebuke in the matter of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, capped his long string of evil deeds with this outrage: He put John in jail.”
Here’s the back story. When Herod had visited his brother Philip and his wife Herodias in Rome, he decided that he wanted Herodias for himself, so he abducted her, and remember, this is his brother’s wife. He brought Herodias back to Judea, then divorced his own wife and installed Herodias as the queen.
When John criticized this immoral behavior on Herod’s part, Herod locked John up, because if there was one thing Herod could not stand, it was criticism of himself.
John had a lot of time to think in prison. In fact, he didn’t have anything else to do.
Before Herod threw him in jail, John had been preaching about a Messiah to come with a winnowing fork in his hand, the one who would burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. The Messiah that John expected would bring freedom, liberation, and justice—hopefully from the oppressive rule of the Romans, and from tyrants like Herod.
But there was Jesus out in Galilee doing none of the things that John might have supposed the Messiah would do (like burning the chaff with unquenchable fire) to cleanse the earth of sin and bring in God’s reign.
Instead, Jesus was giving the blind their sight. The ones who couldn’t walk could now leap with joy, Jesus was healing the lepers, the deaf people could once again hear, and even the dead were being raised.
The ministry of Jesus was one of love, compassion and healing. And the problem for John was that this sort of ministry was not going to get him out of jail or out of Herod’s clutches.
So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus—
“Are you the One who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
John wants to know—can we hope in you, Jesus? Are you really going to change this world with your life giving love, acts of compassion and mercy?
This question echoes down through the centuries—this is the question we must ask ourselves.
Are you, Jesus, the One who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
Because how we answer that question will determine how we live in this world—
If we are waiting for Jesus, we will live as Jesus lived in the world while we wait.
If it turns out that we are waiting for someone else besides Jesus, we can get led astray into thinking that the one we are waiting for is one who will rescue us and make things right for us at the expense of the very people that God cares most about.
The psalmist reminds us that God has special concern for those who are oppressed, those who hungry, the prisoners, the blind, the ones bowed down by the sorrows and sadness of this life, the strangers, those aliens and immigrants that God ordered the Israelites to care for as they cared for one another (you can find these directions to the Israelites in the Old Testament book of Leviticus) — and those who are economically vulnerable—people like orphans and widows, and in our day and time, single mothers.
We too can find ourselves in seemingly intractable situations that are death dealing—situations for us that may be like inhabiting a body that is falling apart and we can’t do what we used to do, or being stuck in a lousy marriage, or not being able to find work, or having a job that never helps us to make it financially, or having a terminal illness, or being addicted, or even caring for someone who needs round the clock care and wearing ourselves out in the process.
We wait for deliverance and this wait can seem like it will never end.
BUT– here’s some Good News. While we wait, God gives us the free gift of hope.
Emily Dickinson, the American poet wrote that
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul-and sings the tunes without the words-and never stops at all.”
Real hope isn’t something we can call up on demand. Real hope is a free gift from God, that gift like “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” a great way to describe the Holy Spirit—hope showing up, settling in, and singing God’s endless love song when we least expect it.
A black clergy woman who attended a meeting I went to last Thursday said that during the years of Jim Crow she had hope. Those were the years in our country in which the oppression of black people was systematically carried out through intimidation and impunity for anyone who killed or persecuted a black person. The laws themselves enshrined blatant discrimination. These laws, which reinforced segregation, and may I add, reinforced hatred, were put into place at the end of Reconstruction, in 1877, and were still in place in parts of the country until the late 1960’s, almost one hundred years of continuing oppression for our black brothers and sisters.
So this woman found her hope during those awful years in and through the Church.
The Church is a powerful witness to hope.
Hope is one of the gifts of grace that God gives us as the Church. We Christians are a hopeful people, and who we wait for is obvious in the ways that we live out our faith in this world with hope as Christians.
Dr. Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister, had this God-given hope, that was raised up in him in and through the Church. This hope gave him the strength and the courage to lead the Civil Rights Movement. This movement was met with a great deal of hatred and violence all over the country, and King must have known that his life was in danger. In fact, he was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee on April 24, 1968. He was 39 years old.
But throughout the Civil Rights movement, and right up until his murder, King demonstrated the graceful hope that I’ve been talking about as he sought justice on behalf of his people.
This graceful hope is the hope that allowed him to say these words at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In his stirring speech, King quoted Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet who lived and prophesied with hope.
King spoke out these words of Isaiah.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
“This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
As Christians, we must see and know this work still must be done—to change the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives me the hope that this dream of unity in our nation is still possible, despite our divisions.
In this season of Advent, and in the days, months, and years to come, the Jesus we wait for with hope is not only the vulnerable baby in a stable who had to be laid in a manger because no one could make room in a house for a pregnant woman about to give birth.
We also wait with hope for the Cosmic Christ.
Richard Rohr, the Catholic theologian, says that “the Christ (we wait for) includes the whole sweep of creation and history joined with him….God wants adult religion and a mature free response from us. God loves us as adult partners, with mutual give and take…Jesus Christ, the one we are waiting for, includes our own full birth and the further birth of history and creation.”
So in these last few weeks before Christmas we will wait, not for another, but for Jesus Christ, the Cosmic Christ, to be born in us.
May we bear his likeness into the small piece of history we inhabit, by being people of mercy and compassion, working for God’s purposes rather than for ourselves; by being people willing to work for justice for every human being and for all of creation in the face of every difficulty; and most of all, by being people who witness with hope to God’s unquenchable and endless love for everyone and everything that God has made.
King, Martin Luther. “I have a dream.” (pages 381-385) In Kakonis, Tom E. and Wilcox, James C., editors. Now and Tomorrow: The Rhetoric of Culture in Transition. Lexington, MA: DC Heath & Co. 1971.
Rohr, Richard. Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent. Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008.