Sermon 27 November 2022

Prayers from 20 November 2022

 Genesis 18:1-15 / LAUGHING/ First Sunday of Advent

“I couldn’t WAIT for it to be over.” she said to me.   “Where are you calling from? “From a rest stop in Utah.”  We talked for a while.  Then I prayed for her and we said goodbye over the phone.  My friend lives in Colorado but had gone to have dinner in California.   She was now on her way home.

It’s a special kind of dinner where everyone eats way too much often surrounded by people they cannot stand.  In America, we simply call it Thanksgiving.  For those of you who are thinking, “Thank goodness we don’t have that holiday here.”  Well just you wait.  You’ll get your just desserts on Christmas day.  And yes, that was a pudding pun.  Why are holiday dinners so often fraught?  Well 2 reasons, you are bringing together a group of people once a year who have unresolved issues with each other.  What can you EXPECT?  Expecting.  Waiting.  “I couldn’t WAIT for it to be over.” she said to me

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the baby Jesus at Christmas. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “coming”.  Adventus.  Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (30 November).

Waiting

What are you waiting for?  Has anyone asked you that question?  What are you waiting for?  I think there are 2 ways of asking that question.  And depending on how you ask it, it means 2 totally different things.  What are you waiting for?  Christmas presents.  What are you waiting for? our first child after a long and winding road.  What are you waiting for?  Someone to love me.  What are you waiting for?  The bride.  She’s over an hour late.  This first way of asking is asked with a question mark.  It is often asked sincerely with an expectation of an answer being given.

The second way of asking is asked with an exclamation mark.  It’s asked like this: What are you waiting for!  It is almost yelled out, in frustrated tones, it breaks through the air rhetorically, expecting NOT an ANSWER, but expecting, rather, ACTION.  First THE call then the RESPONSE.   Why is this second type of asking so often fraught?  Well, because we are confronted head on, face to face with our unresolved issues, and, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we can run from the unresolved issue until we are FORCED to finally confront it head on.  It is usually when we have come to the end of ourselves and are on our knees, sitting in a pool of tears.

Procrastination.  Deferment.  I’ll start that diet tomorrow.   I’ll write that letter next week.  I’ll quit this crushing habit which is stealing all my affections from the people I love.  Then a day turns into a month.  Then into years.   We don’t know why we do it, but we all do it.  Some more than others.  I have a friend who is a writer.  I call him up and ask him “Have you written that script? And he says, “No, I realized that the garage needed tidying up and then I baked a cake.”

Question: Is that sermon written?  Well, is it?  Answer: I was trapped under something heavy.  You see how we are sometimes.  Deferring, procrastinating.

There is a sense that Jesus is yet to come but there is a sense that he is already here.  He is already here because Jesus Christ is a God beyond time.  He does not so much come into the world as much as he comes into LIFE.  He comes into Life so we may have that very same LIFE now.  That we can enter into that LIFE now.  Today.  This hour.  This minute.  That he is already here means that you can receive the fullness of LIFE.  YOU can have that life today.  A Call and response.  Born not into the World but born into life.  If you want to accept Jesus into your life today, say silently in your heart, “Jesus, I do not want to wait anymore, I wish for you to enter into my life.”  If you do this, you will have begun your journey as a Christian.

Our Old Testament lesson for today is about something you do not encounter very often in scripture- LAUGHTER.  So I thought we should start with a story, although you might very well think that THIS ONE came from the bottom of the barrel.

After a church service, a little boy told the minister, “When I grow up, I’m going to give you some money.”  “Well thank you, ” the minister replied, “but why?”  “Because my father says you’re one of the poorest preachers we’ve ever had.”

If feels good to laugh, maybe especially when it’s at clergy’s expense.  For some reason, there is very little actual laughter in the Bible.  It has been called the world’s least amusing book.  But today in our Old Testament lesson we have the most famous case of laughing in all the scriptures.  In the New Testament, laughter only turns up twice,  One was in our gospel text  when Jesus visits the home of a leader of the synagogue whose little daughter has died.  And there in the midst of the gloom Jesus promises life in the midst of death.  And everyone around him laughs.  That is a laugh of cynicism and disbelief.

Laughter turns up a second time when Jesus in his teaching says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”  This is a promise that the laughter of joy and surprise are coming.  It’s a promise of God’s unexpected goodness coming out of even the worst of times.

But the great biblical story of laughter is the story of ancient Sarah and her husband Abraham.  Sarah is 90 years old, hunched over, no teeth, post-menopause, her face creased with the ruts of her years.  She and Abraham had been living an ordinary life in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) when God called 99 year old Abraham to take his family to a new land.  Now years later the Lord tells the old man that he and Sarah will have a son.  After all these years of trying, hoping, God says that this baby boy will be born.  Sarah, whose ear has been cocked at the tent entrance, bursts out laughing.

Now what would you do if you heard that a 90 year old lady in the geriatric ward is going to give birth, and NHS is going to pay for it?  You too would laugh perhaps.  And most likely, it would be the laughter of cynicism.  Abraham himself must have let out a toothless cackle.  We laugh cynically because part of ourselves want to desperately believe it and part of ourselves actually do believe it, but we also don’t want to be taken for fools.  It makes no sense.  It is absurd.

Has that ever happened to you?  Somehow this dark thing was hanging over your head and you got a second chance?  Or someone walked into your life and you were so amazed, the whole situation so absurd that you laughed until you cried?

And so God says to Sarah for being without imagination, “I’m going to name your baby Isaac, which means laughter just to remind you that the joke is on you.”  Before long Isaac is born, and Sarah laughs again.

The God we worship is a God who drips with imagination.

In fact, one of the earliest ways Christians talked about Easter was that it was the practical joke God played on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.  Theologians call it Risus paschalis, or the Easter laugh.  And so, especially in Easter Orthodox traditions, the week after Easter would often be filled with parties, picnics, feasts, and joke telling.

Christian faith is at its heart a comedy.  It is about a joy and laughter that point to an ultimate “happy ending” that we see in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And for those who have caught a glimpse of the resurrection, everything looks different and charged with hope.

I heard a minister once say that “among all of God’s creatures, human beings are the only animals who both laugh and weep – for we are the animals who are struck with the difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be.

The Son

And indeed, some years ago, I received a Facebook e-mail from one of my dearest friends.  The e-mail initially had only a photo of her with a sizable bump on her stomach.  Then followed the words: I have some news….  Then followed more words:  baby boy. due in March.  God had granted her heart’s desire to start a family after all these years.  She would cry about it sometimes.  Then she had a spell of going to the Hampton’s on the weekend in the hopes of meeting someone.  It had all the ring of Genesis 16:1-2: Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

And I remember talking to her one night and I said, “What the heck are you doing?  We grew up in New Jersey.  We live by a code.  Those Hamptons boys have no code.  They’re a bunch of punks.”

You must have gathered by now that I am against the Hamptons, Las Vegas and Neo-Nazis, and Mr. Trump.

And the perfect symmetry of it all, this sermon on laughter and the promise of this baby boy was too much for me and I burst out laughing!  It all seemed all too good to be true.  It made no sense.  It was absurd.

Laughter allows us not to take ourselves too seriously.  Since we can relax in the confidence that everything ultimately rests in God’s hands, we able to see ourselves as the foolish, self-important people we often are, and to be reminded of the gap between our estimation of ourselves and the reality.

Maybe that’s why there are so many church jokes.  Most worship and church life are carried on in the mode of high seriousness, and it becomes easy to think God is depending on our own earnest perfection.  But then you come across a few bloopers from some church bulletins that put things right back in perspective.  Here are some that I have collected over the years.

  • Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house.  Don’t forget your husbands.
  • The sermon this morning: “Jesus walks on water.” The sermon tonight: “Searching for Jesus.”
  • At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be, “What is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.
  • For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
  • Don’t let worry kill you- Let the church help.

In the film Lawrence of Arabia, after T.E . Lawrence comes out of the Nafud desert against impossible odds, he turns to Sherif Ali and says, “Nothings is written,” He’s right.  And of course, “Everything is written.”  God’s right.  It’s both.

In fact, the whole Christian story has been seen from its earliest days as something like a grand comedy.  St. Paul talked about the foolishness of God.  We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.  By any normal standards, Jesus’ own life was a holy joke.  He was the king who looked like a tramp, the prince of peace who seemed to be the prince of fools.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a novel imagining Christ as a Russian prince and called it The Idiot.  The musical Godspell presents Jesus as the leader of a 3-ring circus travelling around in acrobat tights.

And of course, Jesus’ teachings and stories have a comic feel to them.  He says, “It is harder for a rich person to enter Paradise than for a Mercedes Benz to get through a revolving door.  Jesus told about strange hosts who invite everyone off the streets to their party, of a father who throws the biggest party for the bad son who squandered everything.  He tells about an idiotic shepherd who strolls off to find one lost sheep and ignores the 99 with the good sense not to wander away.

Conclusion

A final story.  An Amish boy and his mother visited a large shopping mall and were dumbfounded by everything they saw, especially 2 shiny silver walls that moved apart and then back together.

“What is this, Mother?” the boy asked.  Never having seen an elevator she said, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life.  I don’t know what it is.”

The 2 watched as an elderly man hobbling on a cane made his way over and pressed a button. The walls opened and he went in.  Then they closed.  The boy and his mother watched as small numbers lit up above the doors, going up and then down.  Then the walls opened again and out walked a handsome 24 year old man.

The mother, with her eyes never leaving the man, said quietly to her son, “Go get your father.”

Don’t we all long for youth and beauty and joy?  The joke of the story is that we will never find that in a magical elevator.  And the real joke is that there is another kind of joyful surprise waiting for those, whatever their circumstance, who follows this seemingly foolish, jokester Lord.

Many holy things lie in ruins because the world has ruined them and we have ruined them. But faith waits even so.  Faith waits-for the opening of a door, the sound of footsteps in the hall, that beloved voice delayed, delayed so long that there are times when you all but give up hope of ever hearing it.  For light to come.  For the one you love to come.  For the word of life to be spoken.  His coming is our waiting.  His seeking love is our awakening.  But he is here now.  So what are you waiting for?  Exclamation mark.

Baby boy. due in March.  It makes no sense.  It is absurd.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God

 

27 November 2022

Prayers of thanksgiving, confession and The Lord’s Prayer 

(* to **written by Rev. Stephen M. Fearing www.stephenmfearing.com)

Let us pray

Dear Lord, we give you thanks for Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God.  In Him we know You in Your fullness, as loving and compassionate, as creator of all, as mediator of things which are far apart, broken and damaged.  Thank You for His message of hope.

We thank You for human companionship, which builds up and restores the soul.  We thank You for people around us who show us the way of the kingdom of God.  For those whose work is to provide us with what we need, who care for us when we are sick and delight us in so many ways by being just who they are.  And for the random kindness of strangers which turns the ordinary into a moment of joy and meaning.

We thank You for the blessing of our environment, and of sustenance for mind, body and soul. For colour and beauty in nature, and things we see and hear and feel which bring us pleasure, make us stop for a moment, want to share and enjoy – thank You, dear Lord.

Living God, in the stillness of Your presence we know ourselves in new ways.  We see more clearly where we have chosen the way of the world rather than the way of Christ. We have compromised when we should have stood firm, and judged others by standards to which we rarely hold ourselves. We have been quick to anger and slow to love. We have not lived as people who know the kingdom of God is among them.

*You God, are our one and only King.  We beg for your forgiveness for the other “Kings” that we kneel before: money, power, gossip, self-righteousness. We beg for broken and torn apart by our own feebleness.  Guide us to be your servants. Lead your forgiveness, we who are us to trust in you as the only King we need. We pray through the power of your holy spirit that you will direct our faith in your sovereign power as we strive to follow your Son.**

We offer all these prayers in your Son’s name and pray together now in the words that he taught us.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.   Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.  Amen

 

Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.   (adapted from CofS website)

Let us pray.

Almighty God, your Son Jesus is King of Kings, Lord of Lords and the redeemer of the human race; look down upon us, your earthly subjects, as we humbly lay ourselves and our intercessions before you.  We are Jesus’ people and we wish to be more closely united with him in all we do and say.

Creator God, we pray for your world where many indeed have never known about you and your Son; but where sadly many, have rejected you.  Let Jesus be King not only of the faithful who have never forsaken him, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned him altogether.

Heavenly Father, Lord of the past and the future we thank you for all the good things that have happened in our Church this year.  We thank you for our Minister, our elders, our congregation.  We thank you for those who contribute to worship through readings, prayers, beautiful music.  We give thanks for the joy of our worship together as a community.  We thank you for the blessing of children in our Sunday School.  We give thanks and prayers for all those who work so hard to maintain our church, those who willingly give their time and their talents to make it a place of welcome, comfort and peace.

Hear us as we pray with compassion for those who hurt and fear and cry today because they have been let down by systems or circumstances or the ones they love. We remember those whose lives are most affected by climate change, who face hunger, thirst, fire or flood in the heart of their homes.  Grant wisdom and conviction to those who hold the power to make a difference, on global, national and individual levels.

We pray with love for those who are lonely or in pain, and for those who care for family and friends in times of need. We acknowledge the stress of being a carer and the sometimes conflicting feelings of those who are cared for.  Bring comfort and encouragement, dear Lord, to situations of conflict, and rest for those who bear the heaviest burdens.

We pray with faith for those we love the most, and for those who have no-one to name them before You.  May Your presence surround and bless them today and always. May they know they are loved and known and seen by You.  For those who grieve the loss of one they loved, we pray especially that You will encourage them with strong memories and a confidence in Your loving purpose.

We give You thanks for the witness of those who knew and followed You as their Lord and King, and showed us what it meant to be a Christian.  May they know of our grateful love for them, now and always. In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.