untitled (Joanna Shenk)

Texts: Isa 2:1-5, Matt 24:36-44
Date: November 28, 2010
Place: Fellowship of Hope Mennonite Church (Elkhart, IN)
Author: Joanna Shenk

Preparing this sermon has been like a wrestling match in many ways. This past week has been intense, in part due to the changed pace of the holiday, and time with family and friends.

Many unexpected things have happened for me and, in some ways, I am still reeling trying to figure out what’s going on.  So preparing this sermon has struck a deep chord and raised a lot of questions for me.  Many of them I will share with you.

Rather than speaking for 15 minutes straight, or so.  I want to share guiding images, thoughts and MANY questions that have resonated within me as I have wrestled with the biblical texts and the meaning of the season of Advent.

I ask you to reflect on how these thoughts and questions connect with your journey.  What parts resonate with you?  What is God saying to you as we enter this season of expectant waiting?

There will be times of silence interspersed with my speaking. I will ring the bell to indicate a time of silent reflection. Let us move now into this time of reflection…

In the Matthew passage that was just read, we hear a strong warning to be ready for the return of Christ.  We are told the Christ will come like a thief in the night… when we least expect it.

But, is this return only one moment in time or can it be understood as many, many moments throughout our lives when we respond to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God?  Are we awake to what God is doing around us?

Do we expect God to enter this world and enter our lives and transform us?

Are we willing to step into the mystery—step into the unknown spaces of transformation?  When we do this in response to God, we may seemingly disappear from life as we’ve been living it.  Could this be another way of imagining how the Gospel of Matthew talks about people being taken?

Others may feel abandoned as we choose to live in new ways.

Are we willing to take these steps? To become self aware of that which needs to change in us in order to embrace new birth—new ways of being?

Do we trust God enough to give up our familiar ways of being? How do we become a community that nurtures one another in the transformation process?  Are we willing to embrace the pain and stretching that comes as new life grows inside us?  Can we be midwives and dulas to one another as this new life is birthed?

(silent reflection)

In the Isaiah passage we encounter a beautiful image of people streaming to the mountain of God.  It is envisioned here that nations will come together, beating their swords into plowshares… choosing peace rather than power struggle.

Reading this imagery in Isaiah, the older of the testaments, reminds us that the idea of peace is not unique to Jesus.  From the beginning, the Eternal One has called Her people to embody shalom.  In the older testament we find many times a God who calls us to embrace the stranger… to learn from unknown visitors… and to live justly with those around us.

Only when the people beg and cry for a king—so that they can be like other nations—does God grant this request.  Yet, it comes with warning after warning and a clear message that this is not what God intended.

Rather than choosing to beat their swords into earth cultivation tools, we see God’s people over and over again choosing to carry weaponry and becoming divided, even among themselves.  Even among ourselves…

Often when hearing this passage, I think immediately of all the wars happening in the world today.  I think of the known and unknown horrors that have been exacted upon those considered ‘terrorist.’  I shutter when the reality sinks in that 66,000 civilians have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

66,000. In the name of what?

(silent reflection)

And what are the swords we each carry?  What are the swords we are unwilling to beat into plowshares? Are they swords of defensiveness? Of self-righteousness? Of passive-aggressive behavior? Of self-justification?

To become one people… to join others on the mountain of God, we must let go of these swords.  And taking it a step further, we must be willing to embrace the transformation that comes as we learn new ways of being in relationship with one another… as we learn to cultivate the soil of our lives rather than throw jabs at those we consider the enemy.

(silent reflection)

In this season of Advent, what are we expecting? Do we truly expect the in-breaking of the Spirit into our lives?  Or do we merely expect things to happen in the way they are ‘supposed’ to happen? In other words,’ according to our plans’ because we figure we’re pretty good people and we’re just being realistic about how things should unfold in our lives.

Biblical scholar Mary Hinkle Shore puts it this way: “Jesus seems to address apocalyptic imagery not to oppressed but to sleepy people,” for “whether they are persecuted or privileged, they no longer believe that anything will change. They imagine today and tomorrow looking exactly like yesterday, and after days, months, and years of such scaled-back expectations, they are getting…very….sleepy.”

So what if God wants to do something that’s actually unexpected??

Are we individuals… are we a community that can handle that?

Are we willing to look for God in mysterious places?  In the confounding situations at work?  In a difficult conversation we just had with a loved one?  In the mission and vision process we’re experiencing as a congregation?  In the pain of walking away from familiar ways of being that we’ve finally recognized as unhealthy?

Will we live as people fully awake to unexpected comings of Christ in our lives?

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke puts it this way:

The poets have scattered you.

A storm ripped through their stammering.

I want to gather you up again

in a vessel that makes you glad.

I wander in your winds

and bring back everything I find.

The blind man needed you as a cup.

The servant concealed you.

The homeless one held you out as I passed.

You see, I like to look for things.

Will we live as people fully awake, looking for the comings of Christ in our lives?

(silent reflection)

In her bookThe Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming,’ Wendy Wright reflects: “To be a Christian does not mean knowing all the answers; to be a Christian means being willing to live in the part of the self where the question is born.”

May we in this season of Advent open ourselves to the unknown… may we truly expect the unexpected.  May we be awake and alert to the comings of Christ in our lives. May we have hope that we can live into the vision of shalom… transforming weapons of self-protection into tools that help us cultivate new life.

(silent reflection)

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