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Stir up your power, Lord Christ and Come! Bring Us New Turning Points! 12/01/2013 First Advent at St Paul’s, Vallejo, CA

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First Advent at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA

December 1, 201

Isaiah 2:1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44

Stir up your power, Lord Christ and Come!

Bring Us New Turning Points

One of the pastors in the Bible study this week suggested that we have an alarm clock go off several times during our sermon to wake everybody up, and becomes mindful to get ready. I did not have a reliable clock like that, so we can all say ”Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come!” to charge us up and get us ready. Because Advent just began, I want to think about the new church year.

Happy New Year! Like the Jews have Rosh Hashanah in September, we have our New Year’s Day on the First Advent, the first day of our new church calendar year. The first of January is merely the secular New Year. It is not completely oriented around Christ like our church calendar, but it still uses the birth of Christ as its beginning. The Jewish calendar is not oriented around Christ’s birth. For them this is the year 5,774 and we wish the Jews a happy Hanukkah which they are celebrating right now from Nov. 27th until December 5th.

Our Church Calendar is very much more oriented around our Lord Jesus Christ and our faith: we have the Advent Sundays before Christmas, when we celebrate Christ’s birth; Epiphany, because the Light of the World has come; then Lent for the Passion of our Lord, Easter for his resurrection and Pentecost for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church. So you see the church calendar is far more immersed in the story of God’s love for the world than our secular year.

But on this First Sunday of Advent we are made mindful that Christ is coming. In our own lives we should be far more immersed in the story of the Gospel than even the church calendar. Here we are in Advent praying, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!” and “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” And we know that Christ is really present with us even now and especially when we get into some trouble or in our time of need. In a way, we could keep Christ away at arms-length if we think Advent is just about marking the shopping days until Christmas and his birthday, because what good is Christmas, if Christ has not been born in the cradle of your heart? What good is the resurrection, if you are not raised up in the new life? What good is Pentecost, if your life is not lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit? What good are all the promises of the Gospel, if God does not keep them for you? And God remains faithful even when we often lose faith.

Someone can bottom out in life, messing up relationships, floundering in his or her career. Then one must cry to the Lord and pray, “God, where are all your promises? Where are all your promises? I’ve been faithful, even though you know that I’m a sinner. But why aren’t you keeping your promises to me?” Luther has the “for me” emphasis. What good is all our faith if it does not really apply to me and you? What good is the Kingdom of Heaven if you and I are shut out of it?

There are situations in life where you have to level with God in prayer, the way Jews argue with God and the way we Christians usually don’t. When you know that God has heard you, then God will make things come out differently for you and with the 126th Psalm you can say, “God has done wonderful thing for me, making me glad.” God will help you get ahead one step at a time, so that the promises are also kept for you and not just for folks in the Bible and not just for others, who happen to be lucky. No, you too have to see to it that Christ becomes the real turning point of your lives.

How important is the turning point from B.C. to A.D. in the calendar to you and me? Not much. B.C., of course, stands for “Before Christ” and for A.D. we often say “After Death,” but A.D. really stands for Anno Domini, that is the Year of our Lord and the Year of our Lord is more than just our church calendar and the different colors with which we dress the altar. You have to have Christ come into your life so that you can compare your old self and your new self. When you realize that Christmas means Christ gets born in your heart and Easter means you have the promise of the resurrection for your life, and Pentecost means the Holy Spirit is inspiring you, then no matter what kind of rejection you may experience here on earth, you have an affirmation from God that makes those troubles which you and I often inflict on ourselves dissolve and melt away. God pronounces a great big “yes” over your life and the “no’s” over you don’t get a chance to keep you down. People here may take away your place on earth, but you know you have a place in God, and that place, has the power to give you a place anywhere on earth.

This is really Theology of the Cross. Luther writes that “It is certain that a person must utterly despair of his or her own ability before the person is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.”[1] That means that we have to come to the end of our rope. People say, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” No, we have to let go and let God! We have to live out of the strength of God. Many problems that we face in life go far beyond our own poor strength. But not when Christ becomes the life of our lives, the power of our love, the wonderful presence that is far better than Christmas presents. Our lives become filled with meaning and we can share that meaning with others, who can also receive the abundant life promised to them by God the same way it is promised to us.

Now there is more to the coming of Christ than just our own individual victories, as St. Paul says, “In all things we are more than victorious through him who loved us.”[2] Somehow the church, our congregation, is involved in the coming of Christ and the whole order of our society goes from the old one filled with injustice rebelling against God to the new one that sees God’s will done here on earth as it is in Heaven. Of course we talk in terms of a foretaste of Heaven. I usually like the metaphor from the movies. We cannot get the feature presentation of Heaven here on earth, but we can have previews of the coming attractions. Just so we don’t take this lightly, we can also get the previews of Hell, if we don’t pray to God with all our hearts and souls: “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!” When Christ comes then we experiences a turning point not only in ourselves but also in our marriages, families, our church, our society.

Pope Francis has been making a strong witness lately. He called unfettered capitalism a new tyranny. Je may be thinking about the bond markets and the way they have done a number on Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Greece is experiencing 27% unemployment and 50% of the youth are unemployed. That is no longer a recession, but a depression. He is speaking of the tyranny of the markets, speculation in the stock market making very undeserving people into billionaires, (in one case, a whole firm guilty of insider trading, and you should see the CEO’s mansion!) and world-wide tax evasion by corporation as well as the rich, shirking their contribution to the common good. Don’t forget that the first Christians shared all things in common. In Acts we read, “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as they had need.”[3] Then a few chapters later we read, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…and there was not a needy person among them.”[4]

That certainly does not describe our society today. Although the society and the economy are much more complex today than that of the early Christians in Jerusalem, we can easily see that right now our society needs real improvement. A system that we live in can be fair and just or it can be stacked against ordinary people. Like in the game of monopoly, a winner can rake in all the assets on the board and leave everybody else with nothing. We pray, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come” to bring a turning point, so that our society begins to provide opportunities for all to make a living. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we pray that Christ will provide us with an order that does not make the rich richer and run the poor into the ground. The coming of Christ brings a turning point in our families, our congregation, and our society just like his birth in us brings about our personal turning point.

A real renewal of our society does not mean we will be able to experience Heaven on earth and the early Christians did not have all the know-how to improve a system and make it survive. Their communalism in Jerusalem made them very poor, so that St. Paul took up a collection for them throughout the Gentile churches to help the saints there. But the alternative for us is not between accepting all the injustice that is so rampant today or having Heaven on earth. The alternative is not between abject injustice and an ideal society. Just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we should do nothing. The something that we can do is the something that we are responsible for. Doing that something brings about greater approximations of justice. Meanwhile we pray, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!” Bring a new birth of freedom for our society. “For freedom Christ has set us free, stand fast, therefore and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.”[5]

The coming Christ will bring a turning point for the better.  Democrats and the Republicans will have to find a way to work together to carry out God’s will, so that our government functions once again. There are so many issues and concerns in our country that are being neglected. Immigrant families should not be torn apart by deportation. The homeless need shelter and those who have lost their homes by foreclosure need to find new homes or rentals once more. We need full employment. Our unemployment rate should not drop just because so many people have given up looking for work. “Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come!” With that pray we also have these very important issues in mind, because the Gospel is about more than just you and me having a turning point from an old problem self to a new productive, creative, and loving self as important as that is.

It’s Advent and a new beginning, so let us get ready for the coming of Christ, who does not only come as an individual, but also with the Kingdom of Heaven. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”[6] Our epistle lesson says, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers!” So getting ready for Christ means having a change of heart and mind. St. Paul reminds us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can discern…the will of God – what is good, acceptable, and perfect.”[7] The followers of Christ need to use their minds to further the mission of Christ. A waist is a horrible thing to mind and a mind is a horrible thing to waste. When we don’t use our minds they stagnate like a pond without the entry of fresh water.

So let’s have a renewal of our minds and awaken to the new year and the new time that is on the way, because Christ is coming. Notice that in our gospel lesson Christ says that he himself does not know when the end of the world will come, but that is known only to the Father. But we know that Christ has promised to be with always, even to the end of the world. So just the way a person can have a change of heart in Christ and leave the old self behind and become dressed up in the new self, so our society can as well and achieve greater approximations of justice.

A change of heart and mind is crucial and it is quite necessary for our salvation, but our work for justice and change in our society is also part of it. That’s what the community organizer Surya from Common Ground was all about when she came to visit us. The church hears the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven and becomes for the that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”[8] The Church that is filled with the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven is to society what yeast is to bread dough. The yeast gets mixed into the dough of the whole society, until the whole society becomes leavened. Unleavened bread means bread without yeast, while leavened bread is bread that rises.

My mother used to bake bread for our family twice a week. She had this huge aluminum bread pan. She would put in the water and flour and all the other ingredients. She always used King Arthur flour. Then she put in the yeast, those little yellow and silver packets. When she had kneaded the whole of it, she would divide up the dough and put it in little bread pans and put them on the radiators all over the kitchen. Leavening meant that with the warmth the yeast put all these air-bubbles into the dough making it rise. When the dough started spilling over the edge of the pan, we would have to go and hit it, so it would go back and then rise once more. Then it went into the oven. What a wonderful memory. The whole house would smell like a bakery. But if you let it, the dough would keep on rising. And that means that in the Kingdom of Heaven, we too keep on growing, improving, and maturing and our society can as well. It keeps on growing and maturing. This congregation will as well, when the new interim takes over and helps you through the process of getting ready for the new pastor God has in mind for you. With the leaven of the coming Christ and the kingdom of heaven, you will keep on rising and growing and maturing.

Our lesson emphasizes that we have to stay alert and keep on getting ready. Christ will come like a thief in the night. So we have to make ready. He’ll not make an appointment. He’ll just show up and ring our bell. Will we have changed and will we be involved in changing our society? Let’s be mindful, prepared, alert and ready. So let’s put on Christ and spread love and joy through our relationships and justice throughout the beloved community Christ died in order to bring. “Faith becomes active in love and love seeks justice.” That’s our formula.

So wake up, becomes mindful of the new self we receive in Christ and the turning points in our society that bring ever greater approximations of justice when we pray, ”Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come!” Give us a real dose, Lord Christ, from turning point to turning point. Let your beloved community be peopled by your saints in our time. Amen.

[1] Timothy Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 31

[2] Rom 8:37.  / [3] Acts 2:44-45. / [4] Acts 5: 32-34.   /[5] Galatians 5:1.  /  [6] Mark 1:15. / [7] Rom 12:2.

[8] Mat 13:33.


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