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Sermon transcript for January 4, 2015

And Wait There’s Myrrh
Chris Allen
January 4, 2015
Epiphany Sunday, Year B

When I go to tell the story of the magi visiting baby Jesus I seem to find myself recounting more or less the Sparknotes version of this story. This is the version that's similar to the one we tell in our nativity sets. There is Mary and Joseph watchfully gazing at baby Jesus with some shepherd huddled up nearby along with their grazing flock plus maybe a harkening angel. Then on the other side there are the three wise men, with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They fit nicely into this mash up we know so well. But there is more.

I am indebted to the youth for some sermon inspiration. A few weeks ago during Sunday School the youth act out the Christmas story for the 3rd grade Sunday School class. As they prepared for this assignment I learned this joke from Ella and Anna: "The magi brought gold and frankincense and wait, there's myrrh." This clever play on the word was a reminder to me that yes there is quite more to this story.

Today, the church celebrates Epiphany Sunday, which is the Sunday closest to January 6, the day that marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. The word epiphany has two dictionary definitions. The first is the celebration of Christ's manifestation to the Gentiles on January 6 as told through the story of the magi. And the second definition is a sudden realization or insight.

Growing up in Tampa, Tarpon Springs made the news every year at this time of the year for their Epiphany celebration. The area of Tarpon Springs has a large Greek population and an elaborate Epiphany celebration each year by the Greek Orthodox Church. In fact for over 100 years, boys around sixteen years old gather on small boats in the waters of the bayou awaiting the bishop to toss a cross into water. As the cross plunges in, there is an underwater, rugby-like scrum to find the cross. One of the boys will eventually find the cross and he'll arises from the water with sheer joy on his face at the sudden realization that he has found the cross. There is service that follows this event and the boy who found the cross receives a special blessing from the bishop. It is a quite a beautiful tradition that helps to tell the story of Epiphany and give meaning to both definitions of for the word epiphany.

So here we have these magi, our wise men who are thought to be Zoroastrian astronomers. This means they were not Jewish like Mary and Joseph. They may have even been considered pagans. They probably dabbled in fortune telling and astrology. They would have shown up Mary and Joseph's door speaking with a foreign accent and wearing very different clothes. It would have been clear that they were from another country. We have heard and told this story so many times that we often forget how crazy, bizarre, and strange it really is.  These magi were of another faith and they journeyed a great distance to worship "the King of the Jews."

Just think about how much the story of the magi differs from the story of the shepherds. The shepherds were mostly likely Jewish. Mary and Joseph would have probably recognized them as local shepherds by clothes they wore. The shepherds did not spend their nights watching the stars; they spent their nights watching over their flock. As they cared for their sheep one night, an angel proclaiming good news that a savior was born in the city of David startled them. When the angel left, they looked around and said let's go right now. The angel gives the, shepherds the immediate news of Jesus' birth and even the directions on where to find Mary, Joseph, and Jesus so they went quickly.

You have on the other hand the magi. Picture with me the story of the magi. They were watching the stars; one magi noticed something and then the second said to others, "hey, that's the star of the newborn King of the Jews." Which the third then responded with "let's follow it to see where it leads." What is so wise about leaving your homes in the East to trek across the desert with only the vaguest notion of what it is you’re looking for? The wise men definitely had their heads in the clouds.

The magi eventually find themselves in Jerusalem. Not a bad place to look for the king of the Jews but they stroll in and start asking for directions. The scripture tells us that "everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with [King Herod]" at their request for directions. At least the young men diving into the waters of Tarpon Spring see the cross before it’s thrown into to the depths.

It was a slow journey to find the Christ-child. At least several months has passed since the birth. The triumphal joy of Christmas Eve has faded by the time the magi arrive on the scene. In many ways it’s like our homes that have been decorated for Christmas. The lights will be coming down. The tree will soon disappear. The nativity set will be put away. The ornaments packed back up and stored in the attic. Normalcy will be returning.

By the time the magi get there, Mary and Joseph are probably in the normalcy of being exhausted parents of an infant or even a toddler. Gone is the stable. Did you notice that the magi entered the "house"? The star that previously led in the general direction of Jesus now seems to be a laser beam shining down on the one house where the child is. This house may have no longer be in Bethlehem, but the family may be back in Nazareth by the time the magi arrive. Even Matthew's gospel suggests in the verses that follow today's reading that two years may have passed if we take Herod's order in to consideration. There is no doubt that this was a long journey for the magi to worship Jesus. This was a journey filled with many stops to ask for directions.

So why do we include them at the end our Christmas story? I believe we include them because the magi serve as a reminder at the end of Christmas of our own long journeys. The magi, like us, have journeyed for some time with our questions and doubts, and we can only hope sometimes that we are going in the right direction.

The magi are the late arrivals to the party like many of us. It is as if the magi have more in common with the all boys who dive in the waters of Tarpon Springs and come up empty-handed. The magi were just beginning their search when the shepherds had already came, saw the newborn King, and went back home. The magi teach us that the journey to faith is not always as simple as the path the shepherds took.

We remember the Magi on Epiphany because, arriving on the scene when all the seemingly miracle stuff is already long gone, they encountered the miracle of that is the Christmas story, the miracle of a God who comes to be with us, no matter where you come from, no matter where you are on the journey, and no matter how late you feel you are to the party. The magi teach us that your questions, doubts, and searching are welcome here in this place. The story of the magi is a light of hope for us to keep journey because there is still more to this story.

Part of the "more to this story" is when we come to the realization of Christ's lordship in our lives, no matter how late maybe; we are called to return home another way. This path home will continue to have its own questions, doubts, and fears. Returning home another way is not a promise that the way will be free from tragedy - we may witness unspeakable evil or experience deep pain. It is not a promise that we will not turn on the news and see that another person has been shot by a gun or a child suffering from a disease. Or that we won't have a stack of things to do as we return to work tomorrow.  After Epiphany, we do now travel another way with this awareness that things are different because we know it is Christ who leads us and journeys with us on the path to live differently in the world.

Part of my spiritual disicplines each more includes the use of the book Common Prayer. I want to share with you the benediction that is included each day as it a reminder to me of the long journeys we often take to encounter Christ, and yet, we are sent out with the promise of Christ in our midst.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : where he may send you;
May he guide through the wilderness : may he protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.


1 Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010)

Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

 

Sermon transcript for December 21, 2014

“Mary, Servant of God”
Luke 1:26-38
Belmont UMC—12-21-14
Fourth Sunday in Advent

We have reached the 4th Sunday in Advent, 4 candles of our Advent Wreath have been lit, and we’ll gather again at Belmont for the Christmas Eve Service and light the Christ Candle. Our Advent journey has focused on repentance, hearing the words of John the Baptist, calling us to turn our lives toward God, and to do the spiritual work of preparation. Last Sunday our journey took us to a renewed understanding of light and hope in the Advent story. We are the ones who are to go out into the world with the message that the light of God has shined upon the earth.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we read a surprising story about a strange encounter between a young teenage girl and an angel, Gabriel. It’s a story with which we may be too familiar, too familiar to read it as though it is the very first time, but try to hear this story again with a fresh understanding.

An angel of the Lord appeared to this poor teenage girl to tell her that she was going to give birth to a child and “he will be great—and will be called the son of the most high and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David, his father. He will reign over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Is that all?

While that sounds glorious, try to put yourself in the place of Mary. Not only was this stunning news, but there were complications. She was betrothed to a man named, Joseph. And Gabriel was telling her that she would be with child before they are married.

There were two steps to the betrothal. The first was consent (we would call this engagement), usually entered into when girls were 12-13 years old. She would continue to live with her parents for about a year. After this period the husband would take her to his parents’ home where they would assume support of her. Mary and Joseph were somewhere between these two steps when Mary is found to be with child. This created a difficult and embarrassing situation for them.

So it may not have sounded like the good news that we often associate with it. It was stressful and anxious news. It was a predicament! Gabriel called Mary “favored one” and she may have been thinking, “Please, don’t do me any favors—go favor someone else.” Luke wrote that she was confused or perplexed. I cannot tell if Luke was the master of the understatement or the master of overstating the obvious.

I think that we sometimes imagine Gabriel kneeling in front of Mary, looking up at her, waiting for an answer as though everything depends on her. “What’s it going to be, Mary? Are you with us or not?”  But that is not what happened. Gabriel appeared to tell Mary what was going to happen. “You been chosen by God and this is what will happen next.”

Mary answered with one question, “How will this happen?” We would have asked lots of questions. Why me? What will people say? Will Joseph still love me? Will I be taken to the doorsteps of my parents’ house and stoned to death? (the Law) “Will I survive this?” “Will anyone help me?”

Mary is called by God to be the God-bearer.
There were many calls in scripture and most of them were met with great reluctance. Moses was reluctant to go back to Egypt and made excuses. Jeremiah and Isaiah were reluctant prophets and made excuses. The disciples expressed their reluctance. When the angel visited Elizabeth and Zechariah to tell them of John’s birth, Zechariah had 20 questions and was struck silent until their son was born.

The call of Mary stands out in the scriptures. It was unique and dramatic. She was asked to accept the possibility that God would choose her, a teenage girl, from a small town in Galilee to be the bearer of God’s child. Amazing!

Mary was called to abandon her plans. Do you have a plan? Sometimes our Bishop asks, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I told him I was more of a 5 minute planner, not a 5 year planner. I remembered a movie where one of the main characters had a copy of his 5 year plan in his back pocket; he kept consulting it throughout the story.

Mary may not have had a 5 year plan, but she had plans. She planned to marry Joseph, a carpenter. The would settle down in the suburbs of Nazareth, make a nice home for themselves, enjoy their life together, and yes,  have some children eventually if that worked out.

But God had a different plan. Mary was willing to adopt God’s plan as her own, accept God’s vision as her vision. Her response is, “Here I am.” Mary said a “yes” that reverberates throughout history.

Mary is called by God and so are we. Sometimes the call interrupts our long range plans. My plans were interrupted 40 years ago and I’ve been living into that interruption ever since. Sometimes the call of God can interrupt our 5 minute plan. Mary’s story challenges us. When God calls, how will we respond? Will we say, “Yes!”?

Mary was asked to accept that the child was the child of God.
She was asked to accept that God would become flesh and live among us, that God would be so in love with the world that God would come to be one of us. Imagine that? Can you begin to imagine that God loved the world and everyone and everything in it that much?

Years ago an older friend said to me, “To be loved is a huge responsibility.” She did not say, “To love someone is a huge responsibility.” She said, “To be loved . . .” Isn’t that true? To be loved like that summons forth something within us; it raises the bar of expectation for us. We know it is something we’d prefer to lay aside or ignore, but we cannot.

In one of the churches I served, we started a simple tradition during Advent. We got the idea from another church. We took the Baby Jesus (pretend baby) from our church crèche, and on the first Sunday in Advent I would deliver the Baby (a doll wrapped in a blanket) to the first home. The baby was to be in the care of the person or family for 24 hours. The baby would go to work, to the store, to school, to the Christmas parade, to grandma’s house, etc. The caregiver of the baby would write reflections in a journal and take the baby to another house. The baby would come back to the church to be placed in the crèche for worship on Christmas Eve.

I recall being at the Christmas parade and a group of Girl Scouts marched by and one was carrying our Baby Jesus. I saw Baby Jesus in the grocery store and at the park. Some persons said that having Baby Jesus in their house caused their children to behave. Some children said their behaved better with Baby Jesus in the house. Some said that taking Baby Jesus to work with them gave them an opportunity to share their faith story.

On a first Sunday of Advent I delivered Baby Jesus to one of our oldest members, age 90--a bright, active, and incredibly plain spoken woman. She would say, “At my age I don’t have time to mince my words.” I’d prayed and thought about who should have the baby first and her name kept coming to my mind and I took that as the Lord’s prompting. I showed up at her door and explained the program to her, she looked at me and said, “Whose idea was this? I believe this is the stupidest idea you have come up with. Why don’t you take that doll somewhere else, I have a cold.” I persisted, “I’m pretty sure you are supposed to do this.” “Well, all right, put him over there across the room. I don’t want to give him my germs and you better come pick him up tomorrow.”

Later I read her journal entry. She wrote that she was initially disgusted with the whole idea, looking at the baby across the room. Finally, she walked over and picked him up and held him and thought, “What if?” What if God showed up at my door and handed me his child?” And then she wrote, “And that is exactly what God did.” (She noted in her journal that she had washed the baby and his clothes to rid them of her cold germs.)

The gift of God’s son changes Mary’s life and changes our lives forever.
We sentimentalize and romanticize all the life changing power out of this story, but to truly accept it is to be prepared to accept transformation. Barbara Brown Taylor tells us about 5 year old Sharon’s version of this story. “The baby was borned. And do you know who he was? The baby was God.” She leaped in the air, twirled around and dove into the sofa and covered her head with pillows.” Brown Taylor writes that this is the only proper response to the incarnation. To hear this correctly is enough to make us dive for cover, because this is the story that changes us completely and forever. (Mixed Blessings, “Decked Out in Flesh” pp. 50-51)

It reminds us that God has favored us with divine love, that we must yield our plans to God, that we hear God’s call and that call is for us to be God-bearers and that we are to carry the story of God’s love into the world.

Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

   

Sermon transcript for December 14, 2014

The Light of God
John 1:6-8; 19-28
Third Sunday of Advent – December 14, 2014
Belmont UMC -- Ken Edwards, preaching

When I was younger, I went to a Ministers Retreat in the mountains. We were given an afternoon of free time and I was invited to join two other people in a rappelling adventure in a nearby mountain. We hiked several miles through the woods to a beautiful cliff with a 150 foot drop, set up our lines and proceeded to rappel to the bottom.

What my colleagues did not tell me—because they knew of my aversion to caves—was that they planned to hike back to the top of a mountain through a cave at the bottom of the cliff. I came unprepared, with no flashlight, or spelunking gear (whatever that might be). I was not happy about this, but after rappelling off the cliff, I followed the two men into the dark cave alongside a stream and then onto a narrow ledge above the stream where we had to crawl to make passage.

My adventurous friends spied a small opening in the side of the cave wall and decided to explore this opening. They asked, “Do you want to join us or wait here?”  I opted for waiting on the ledge. Without a flashlight, and with my friends disappearing into the narrow crevice with the only lights, I discovered that I was in complete darkness. At first it was peaceful and quiet, but after about 10 minutes it became unnerving. What if they did not come back? I lost my bearings and could not remember where the wall of the cave was and where the side of the ledge was. I had no idea which way was out of the cave. I began to panic. I prayed and waited. Finally, I saw a gleam of light coming toward me and I still recall the great relief I felt at the sight of this light. With light comes hope and our world is need of hope during this Advent season.

John the Baptist appears again in our Gospel text for this Sunday. In John’s Gospel he is presented as one who is not the light of God but one that points the way to the light that will shine upon the earth. He is the voice that speaks of a light that will break forth and bring hope to a world that is in darkness.

John did not have much about which to be hopeful. People were going out to him in the wilderness, going out to hear his message, to be baptized, to repent of their sins. But the political leaders did not like John or his words. Eventually he would wind up in prison and later beheaded. It was not a hopeful time for the people of Israel, but John raised their expectations about a light that would come into the world.

Even in the midst of desperate times, John said, “I have come to tell you that a light is coming to this world and that light will shine in our darkness. I am not that light, but I’m going to keep on talking about it no matter how dark things become.” (Edwards paraphrase version) John is a witness to this great light and he gives voice to the ancient words of the prophets.

Advent is about remembering the darkness, and remembering that God came to shine light on all humankind in Jesus Christ.

There is darkness in our world today. It is troubling but true; we would rather not talk about it during Advent. Some of you are troubled by grief and anxiety. While the holiday presents joy and hope to many, it is a time of accentuated grief and sadness for others. Some are living in poverty and oppression.  Some have given up or lost their way. Wars continue throughout our world. There is great unrest in our nation, unrest that will continue until justice prevails. We cannot hide from the darkness of our racism and we desperately need God’s guidance.

There are those in our world who are suffering this Advent and we must not shut our eyes to the suffering. One way the church must give contemporary voice to the light and hope of the prophets is to become bearers of that same hope and light.

Several years ago a young man named David showed up at my office during Advent. He had visited the church where I served as pastor. He was timid, depressed and he felt like giving up. He had lost everything--his job and his home. He had a little gas in his car, the shelter that had become his home. I gave him some warm clothes and some money for food and gasoline. I saw him a few days later and he told me that he bought a sleeping bag with the money because he was so cold at night. There were times during that Advent that I thought we needed David as much as he needed us—he taught us so much about the meaning of the light of Christ.

One of the families of the church adopted him and assisted him in getting to a job in Arkansas. A few days before he left for his new job, I had gone down the hall of the church to get a cup of coffee and returned to my office to find two beautiful cards stuck in the wreath outside our office door. They were from David. They were Christmas cards and thank-you notes to me and to the church. David wrote, “You were the light of Christ in my darkness. Without you I would not have found my way.”

One writer says that “Christian hope does not bury its head in yuletide cheer and artificial lights, but like an Advent wreath growing brighter each week, this hope pushes its way into the brokenness of this world, clearing a path in the wilderness so the true light might burst into the darkness.” (Craig T. Kocher, Pulpit Resource, Oct-Dec 2005, p. 55)

I see the sign of God’s light and hope all around us. I see light in the love shown to Edgehill children in the Brighter Days mentoring program and in the scholarships offered to young men and women of that neighborhood through the ONE/Barnes Scholarship program—young men and women who become leaders in their community.

We are being that light through our gifts to the Christmas Miracle Offering as we imagine a world free from malaria. We have an opportunity to save many lives with these gifts.

There is light and hope in the 170 Christmas stockings for Grundy County children and in the gifts shared with our Golden Triangle Children. Grundy County is the poorest county in Tennessee and you made Christmas happen for these children.

I see light and hope in food shared with a family going through a medical crisis and in the simple and quiet gestures of love and kindness we witness around here every day. Our family has been on the receiving end of ministry during a time of grief and your love and kindness have been so generous. You brought light to the darkness of our grief.

We will be witnesses of the great message of hope and light this evening at the Feast of Lights. I can’t wait.

This is not shallow optimism and positive thinking, but a real and lasting hope that shines in the midst of darkness.

I recall hearing some friends tell of a trip to Europe and spending time in a small town. They told us of their overnights in a quaint Bed and Breakfast Inn and all the interesting people they met. On a Sunday they had walked through the village and found a beautiful church. The sign outside the church indicated that a service would be held in the evening and they decided to attend.

That night after dinner they made their way to the church and took a seat near the back. They were the first ones to arrive (visitors are often more eager than the rest of us). The sun was going down and they noticed that there were no lights above them. The church had not been wired with electricity. As other worshippers arrived they came with lanterns which they hung on hooks suspended above the pews. Everywhere a worshipper sat, there was light. The rest of the church was dark.

Everywhere we go, we take the light of God with us. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Where are the places of darkness calling out to us to bring the light?  

The prophet Isaiah said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (9:2)

Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.”  (The Power)

This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.

 

Sermon transcript for December 7, 2014

Through Wilderness—Toward Home
Mark 1:1-8; Psalm 85-1-2; 8-13
Belmont UMC—December 7, 2014
Second Sunday of Advent
Ken Edwards, preaching

One writer imagines what would happen if John the Baptist were to set up preaching camp in the middle of the modern day shopping mall:

“Now imagine this: in comes John, right into the mall. It’s deep winter but he’s wearing sandals on his bare feet, and, yes, he’s wearing his camel’s hair coat, tied with a leather girdle. Now he strides through the double doors of the mall and comes out into the open space near the fountain, and he’s crying, ‘Repent!’

Unreal! What’s this awful man got to do with Christmas? Get him out of here, so we can get our shopping done! But wait; imagine this:  John is a powerful preacher, and the adults cease their frantic shopping and start to gather round him. The teens stop their wandering to laugh, but then they find themselves listening. The children hear him and leave Santa’s line, tugging on their parents’ coats and asking questions: ‘What is he doing?’ What’s he saying?’ ‘Why is he here?’

He’s crying out:  ‘Repent! Turn around! Change your lives!’

And John is such a powerful preacher that the lights, the carols, the crèches, the shopping, the seeing, even Santa’s line—all are forgotten, and the people begin to ask, ‘What shall we do?

And John says, ‘Repent, and be baptized.’ Then he begins to baptize them, right there in the beautiful mall fountain.”  (by Donna Ross, other source material unknown)

On the second Sunday of Advent we always encounter John the Baptist. He is a prophet in the tradition of those Old Testament prophets, like Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos and Isaiah. He’s eccentric like those prophets. His hair is wild and uncombed, honey drips from his beard and his breath smells of crunchy locusts.

He has set up camp way out in the wilderness near the Jordan, away from Jerusalem, away from the center of religion and the center of power. But the people were going out to him—amazing really. Some have suggested that it had been 300 years since God had spoken this clearly and people were going out to the wilderness to hear.

Isaiah had predicted a messenger would come, a messenger who would make the mountains low and the valleys raised up and the path made smooth. This messenger would not draw attention to himself but to one who was to come.

John did not have all the details yet, but he pointed his boney finger toward one who would come, not with John’s cold Jordan baptism, but a Holy Spirit baptism that would usher in a whole new world, a whole new way of thinking and being. John said, “He is coming and you have to get ready!”

Every Advent we meet John the Baptist again and we are not going to get to Christmas without going head to head with John and his message to get prepared.

And so we will spend a little time in the wilderness with John. The wilderness is that barren place where our sight lines are clearer. The wilderness is that place where the sheer silence enables us to hear the beating of our own weak and fearful hearts. The wilderness is that place of knowing and perspective. The wilderness is the place where we see the truth about ourselves and even without John’ preaching, we would know that we need to change. We would know our deep need for God. We know our deep need to cry out to God for help--for forgiveness.

Frederick Niedner describes the wilderness this way, “Precisely here, however, in the wordless void, where over and over our theologies get tested, fail, and disintegrate, God meets up with us.” (Sundays and Seasons, Year B, p.7)

We might like to shut our eyes to this wilderness experience, but we only need to turn on the news and read the morning paper to know that we are a world in need of God, and that we need to repent and turn things around. We are broken and lost. We are territorial and exclusionary. We are self-interested and too self-assured. We are filled with hatred and racism.

In my undeserved privilege I do not know what it is like to live under the ugly shadows of racism, but racism is real and persistent and we must confess those times when we have been complicit in it. When I was a little boy, living in the country on a gravel road, my Mom would visit a Doctor here in the city. She never liked to travel alone so she would take me with her to the Benny Dillon building downtown. She’d give me some money to walk down the street to a lunch counter where I’d buy a piece of apple pie and a cup of coffee (I started drinking coffee when I was a toddler). I thought this was the best thing in the world, but I was completely unaware of how many Nashville citizens could not sit at that lunch counter with me because of the color of their skin.

In the wilderness let us confess our failures as human beings, failure to see each other as God sees us, failure to value and respect one another, failure to see that all people matter, and failure to see our need for God.

Here in the wilderness we might want to offer this traditional wilderness confession:  “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

We decided on the theme “Imagine Peace” for this Sunday long before Ferguson and Staten Island and today we may be wondering how we can imagine peace for a world where hatred breeds violence.

But John the Baptist is not asking us to linger long in the wilderness, wallowing in our lostness and self-pity, but he is pointing the way to the one who is to come, the one who helps us see God and know that God has a better way for us to live.

And the prophets do not invite us to stay in the wilderness forever. They invite us to move on toward a home with God, to imagine that future where truth springs up from the ground, and people put down their weapons and live in peace with one another, where war and hatred and racism are no more, where flowers bloom and bring beauty to the desert places, where water gushes up into life in the driest of places, and where justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

   

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