“It’s High Time We Get Ready!” December 7, 1997, Second Advent at St. John’s, East Oakland
Advent II – December 7, 1997
Malachi 3:1-4. Psalm: Luke 1:68-79. Philippians 1:3-11. Luke 3:1-6.
Let us pray: Stir up our hearts, 0 Lord, to prepare the way for your only son. By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world; through your son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
How do we get ready? How do we take away all the roadblocks, so that Christ can come straight to our congregation, St. John’s, here on 55th Avenue in East Oakland? And not only here. Now. This seventh day of December, Pearl Harbor day, when our Pacific fleet got blasted to the bottom of the sea. But that was years ago. What about today?
Today in the sixth year of the presidency of Bill Clinton, with Pete Wilson in Sacramento, the governor of California, and Elihu Harris, the major of Oakland, and Willie Brown major of San Francisco, can the Word of God come to us? That is, the way it came to John the Baptist in the wilderness? They had to mark their calender in those days by naming all the kings and governors because they didn’t have simple dates on a wall-calender to read the way we do. But with our calendars and all our clocks and watches for telling time, do we know what time it is?
Norma Dawson gave me old annual reports from this congregation. No longer is Judge Duncan the president, nor Norma herself, nor Cyril, but Moses Walker, who was a lay associate in this church, and now is the President – and we are in the time of three deacons: Joy Branch, John Davis, and Norma Dawson. There is a fourth deacon, Marylynn Montgomery. But I’ve never met her – so I wonder about her deaconate.
Does this catalogue of our leaders tell us what time it is? St. Paul says: “I am confident that the one who began a good work [in St. John’s Lutheran Church] will bring it to completion by the Day of Jesus Christ.” When Christ returns, then your pastor, your president, maybe your secretary, Ether, and Pandora and Rosa, our financial officers, and certainly the deacons, will have to present an account. The ball was in our court – how did we play it? We had the ball. What was our defense, what was our offense? Our team is at bat. Are we getting any hits for Christ?
How come we are not packing this church? How come we are not making news? Now you probably think I mean making news in the newspapers, radio, or television – that is not wrong – but that is not what I mean. I mean, how come the Word of God is not coming to us as it came to John the Baptist? How come it is not making good news in our midst?
The difference between the news cast, the newspaper and God’s good news – is that the Word of the Lord makes good news happen here in our midst. Then we all become the witnesses to the fast breaking news the Word is making. We give an eye-witness account of the way the Word of the Lord came straight into our hearts, placed our feet on solid ground, straightened out the crooked ways of our desperately corrupt hearts; made our ways straight, so that we could walk on the narrow way, through the straight gate that leads to life.
Now that goes for me, your pastor. That goes for you in this congregation who bear the highest responsibility. It goes for all of you here. Your hearts need to be stirred up. The way to your hearts have to open up, so that Christ can come and enter them again. So that not you live, but Christ lives in you. So that your Christ-life continues to bring the fruit of love and a harvest of justice in our violent and heartless times.
Maybe as Pastor I have not shouted, yelled, and hollered enough. I know, that Moses has not yet tried to choke me.  But then, our game here is much more important than NBA basket ball! What will it take for us to start winning games for Christ? What will it take for us to get this church moving again? To turn the people back to the Lord, who are turning away. It is a matter of death and life. A matter of the baptism of this whole
congregation; not only Marchellos’, and Marshayla’s, whom we are baptizing here today, but what matters is a mighty baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of St. John’s sins, so that we hear the voice of God crying in this God forsaken wilderness:
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”
Open up the pathways to your hearts, open up the way to your hearts, so that Christ, the body of Christ, can come into them, and physically move you to reach out to our neighbors, to figure out what to do about the hungry, how to house the homeless; to study the industrial prison complex and figure out how to set the prisoners free, in the marvelous freedom of Christ.
What did Christ found this congregation for? Christ began a good work in it. What was it? Where are we in the doing of it? Have we forgotten the church work, the homework, which God has assigned to us? It will be no good saying our dog ate it. That excuse doesn’t even work for students anymore, you know.
We certainly know that we cannot do it. But in our Christ-life, Christ will accomplish one task after another among us, and be able to give us more difficult assignments – so that an intense and bright light can shine on the dark paths of this murky world here in our church.
We have to prepare ourselves and get ready! What a wonderful accomplishment the installation was! But I was careful to install your leadership as well as mine. I have to decrease – Christ has to increase.
That summer program was so much more important. We really ministered to new people, and we touched a great many lives. We learned our song. That was the first verse. How do we learn to sing the second one, and what will be the bridge, what the chorus – and will you all sing at the top of your voices in the Holy Spirit of God?
This congregation is in Advent. Christ is coming – and we are going to get ready. Let us prepare ourselves that Christ has a way straight to our hearts, that our hearts get strangely warmed, and we become moved in the light of the Holy Spirit – so that we, the flesh of this generation of St. John’s, will also see the salvation of God. Amen.
 The Prayer of the Day from the Lutheran Book of Worship.
 A very prominent basket ball player became so angry with his coach, he tried to choke him.