Saturday, December 19, 2015

All Stirred Up

Winchester Lutheran Church, Borup, MN
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Felton, MN
December 20, 2015/Advent 4
Luke 1:39-55

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

We’re deep in December, plunged into the darkness of winter, far into a month when we crave the light, plead for the sun to shine once again.
And as usual in this 12th month of the year, you and I feel stuck.
We’re stuck, along with so many other Americans these days, stuck in fear….stuck in anxiety about mass shootings…unnerved by terrorist incidents…bogged down in our suspicion about strangers in our midst.

December is always the month when we’re most keenly aware of what a mess this old world is in.  That becomes clearest every year, right about this time.  

Even if we may not be stuck in the fear and foreboding of this moment--we’re stuck in the memories of Decembers past—the news reporters kindly reminding us, that this past Monday was the third anniversary of that horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT.

We’re stuck in the deep, dark, fearful days of December.   Stuck in the mess that this world seems to be in.

Even if we’re not thinking about the wider world’s affairs, we sense the stuckness in our own little corners of the world.  

Why does it seem that so many people we’ve loved all died in November or December?   Joy and I, in our own little family, remember how three of our parents left us in late autumns past. 
And in this parish, you’ve watched and waited and prayed with your beloved Pastor Karla as her dear Duane was dying of cancer. 

Grief has its way with us all—and December is when we feel that most keenly.

We’re stuck in these December days, stuck, always stuck in fear and darkness and distrust of one another amidst the aching grief of untimely loss.

We’re stuck so badly that we can’t stand it any longer…..which is why on these four Sundays in Advent it’s only natural for us to cry out, to plead with God to get us unstuck.

And that, my friends, is exactly what God does—every December.  

When it seems as though the darkness has won the day—the light starts to return, God takes steps to get us unstuck once again, here and now, on this fourth Sunday of Advent.

This morning God is showing up, to pull us out of the muck of fear and grief and deep uncertainty about everything we thought we could count on.

God shows up, placing on our lips two words about getting unstuck, and those two words are “stir up!”

Advent is the “stir up” season of the Christian year…..and we’re not talking about horses and the kinds of stirrups we find on saddles, either!

“Stir up” are the two words that begin each of the prayers of the day on these four Sundays of Advent.

Sick and tired of being sick and tired, we cry out:  “Stir up!”
Stir us up, God, we pray on two of the four Sundays in Advent:  “Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,…open our ears to the words of your prophets…Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son,” we pray.

Two of the Sundays in Advent we cry out to God to stir us up.  
And that’s a pretty big prayer…but not nearly as big as what we pray for on the other two Sundays in Advent.

Because on those other two Sundays—the first and last Sundays in Advent, we pray for God, pleading that God would be stirred up for us“Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come….save us from the threatening dangers of our sins….Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come….free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always,” we pray this morning.

It’s an astonishing thing, for mere mortals like us to pray for God, to beg God to stir up God’s very self for us and for this whole aching world.

But that’s what we pray for in this Advent season….and that’s what’s playing out here in our Gospel lesson from Luke 1.   

God is stirred up here….and when God gets stirred up—watch out!   Everything gets turned upside down.   All the stuckness of this old groaning creation breaks loose.   All the messes we’ve made for ourselves get straightened out.  

Things we just take for granted—the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, the powerful keeping everyone else under their thumbs—all of it gets tossed up in the air when God gets stirred up for us and for our salvation.

And the reach of all this “stirring up” is so vast, so far, so wide, so deep that you’d think God would need tons of dynamite or megatons of nuclear power to pull it off….

…..but that’s not at all how it happens.

When God gets stirred up on behalf of God’s whole, sorry creation….God always starts small.   A young girl scurries across the Judean countryside, escaping from her unsettled world, longing for the safety of her cousin Elizabeth’s kitchen.

And then, they’re both there, together, dancing a little jig in Elizabeth’s kitchen:  Mary and her ancient cousin, both pregnant under extraordinary circumstances---because God is stirring in their midst.

Old Elizabeth feels it….the first fluttering of the fetus growing inside her old, dead womb….her child leaping for the first time when Mary crosses the threshold.

THAT’s what things look like when God gets stirred up!  

God enters into this messed up world in the smallest of ways….in the word that Elizabeth’s child, John the Baptist, will soon proclaim as he points to his cousin, God’s barrier-breaking, sin-obliterating, future-opening Word Made Flesh:  Jesus the Christ.

When we are most stuck, most deeply sunk in fear and distrust and suspicion of one another….God in the tiny child comes among us to get us unstuck, to uncurl us from our fetal position, to turn us away from ourselves and our anxieties, to return us to God, to turn us inside out toward our neighbors:  able to trust again, love again, risk ourselves again as God in Christ has risked all for us.

And this shall be a sign to you:  expect God to start small….in a baby, lying in a manger.

This shall be a sign to you:   anticipate God starting small in the baptismal splash, the morsel of bread, the sip of wine, the word that strangely, unexpectedly stirs you.

This shall be a sign to you:   perceive God coming to us in the stranger who’s starting to look more like a neighbor.

This shall be a sign to you:   behold God replacing fear with faith, suspicion with trust, hatred with hope.

This shall be a sign for you:   realize that sin no longer has a hold on you, the devil no longer has you under his thumb, death never again will have the last word with you.

This shall be a sign for you:  because God is getting stirred up, this world—your world--will never be the same again.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Religious Freedom and Love of Neighbor

On December 10, 2015 I participated in a meeting of the board of directors of the Minnesota Council of Churches.   The following statement was approved by the board for sharing with the member faith communions in Minnesota.   I invite you to pass on this document to others, including your own faith community.

Respect for Religious Freedom and Love of Neighbor: A Call to Offer These Christmas Gifts
Minnesota Council of Churches
Statement of the Board of Directors
As Christian leaders who serve as the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches, we want to speak to our communities of faith and to the larger community of people living in Minnesota.
To begin, we want to address the members of all our communities of faith.  We call on people to speak with respect in a tender time when we all feel vulnerable and unsafe after acts of mass violence.  “Be not afraid…” is an exhortation in the Bible, again and again.  Let that be the deep value in which we rest. Courageously reaching out to our neighbors, learning more about their stories, and supporting our newest neighbors is a gift worth giving in this Advent and Christmas season.
Secondly, we express appreciation for and commend consideration of all candidates in our political process who are respectfully engaging the issues of how we best build up the life of our state and nation and serve the common good.  We encourage people in political conversations in family, communities and work contexts to speak with care.  Our words matter.  Let us commit to refrain from using speech that reflects hatred of others and contributes to the division of our society.
We also ask media outlets to tell the stories of candidates, who in their campaigns, debates and addresses are offering constructive proposals for our shared life together.  Your choice of stories matters and can build up or tear down the common good.  When we focus only on the negative or inflammatory, we do not have time to hear the larger conversation and participate in discernment about our shared future together.
Most importantly, in a time when hard actions and sharp words have been directed at our Muslim neighbors, we want to speak a word of support and pledge to walk with them and support their freedom to practice their religion.  This country is built on that freedom.  We pledge to walk respectfully and to learn from one another.  The Islamic community in Minnesota is vibrant and diverse, contributing much to the state - as citizens, teachers, police officers, medical workers, tradespersons, community leaders, mothers and fathers.  We stand in solidarity with the Muslim communities of Minnesota and are ready to denounce the vitriol that comes their way.  As Christians, we are called to love all our neighbors.  Muslims are our neighbors, and we love them. 
Finally, we are committed to continuing our long experience of working with diverse faith communities and of welcoming refugees into our midst, without regard for religion or ethnicity.  We are committed to building communities of respect.  We call for respect, support and helpful curiosity, instead of critique and attack, in the days to come from all people as we seek to build the best Minnesota possible.

We invite the sharing of this statement

MCC Members - Minnesota Jurisdictions of the following:
African Methodist Episcopal Church
American Baptist Churches, USA
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Church of God in Christ
Church of the Brethren
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Mennonite Church
Moravian Church
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches
National Baptist Convention
Pentecostal World Assemblies
Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church