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Signs of Hope - Sermon on Luke 21:25-36

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Jesus gave his followers signs. Signs are all around us today. How do we know what they mean or what they are for. And how do we see the signs in the world and still live in hope for Christ's reign? 

 Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The text is included for your convenience, but it is not entirely like the delivered version, which includes nuances that can't be read.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

November 29, 2015  -  1st Sunday in Advent

"Signs of Hope".  Text is from Luke 21:25-36

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.  

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and the first Sunday of a season that we look forward to the great coming of the Messiah in the form of a humble child. And we move to a different cycle in the church year and get to move ourselves into that eager anticipation. There is much joy to come in the world, as we lift our Christmas trees up in our living rooms and spread the lights across our mantle pieces and dust off our ornaments, decorating our homes. Maybe even going online and shopping for gifts for Christmas, trying to be the first in line at the store to get this year's crazy toy. While much of the season is driven by the crass commercialism of the media market trying to encourage us to spend, spend, spend, there's no fault in ourselves for wanting to share the joy of our past year with one another, brightening up our lives and making memories of one more holiday season with family, friends and those that we love. 

 And yet, while we anticipate the Christ child, we read on this, the first Sunday in advent, from a much later part of Luke; with words of Jesus Christ himself, some fairly dire and ominous prophecy of days to come, images that we can very easily take kind note of today.  

Jesus is talking to his early followers, words to provoke hope in their hearts amidst all the turmoil of the times that they would encounter, and indeed, they would encounter a great deal. That the weather, the oceans, the earth itself would let them know that the redemption of the people would be close by. Because there would be times that would come and try them in their own lifetimes. The followers of Jesus would be persecuted in Jerusalem and throughout the Roman Empire. Jerusalem itself would be sacked, the sacred temple lying in ruins.  Natural disasters would plague the earth in the years following the death of Christ, earthquakes. The words he offered them gave them a means to hope for a better world, one which they could survive, that their hearts are not "weighed down" because of the events, in order they may survive and thrive.

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How do we understand and read the signs around us? What do we look for, how do we know that signs are upon us? For instance, I can see that grass is turning brown and I know that is a sign that our lawn needs watering or that it's time to do some more drought resistant landscaping. Rudeness that people have toward one another and anxiety in their faces when they are coming off of a BART train on any given week morning at Montgomery station is a sign that the train has been delayed and is too crowded, and it could be a sign that it may be time to reexamine the train timetables to accommodate a changing demographic.  High real estate prices and greater homelessness is a sign that an increasingly tech-driven population is moving into the area, and that more people are being pushed out to distant suburbs in order to afford living in the Bay Area, and it is also a sign that municipal services have failed to account for the need for affordable housing for enough of the community. 

When a dog, wags its tail, it's a sign that it is happy to see you, unless there is a distinct tightness in its lips and teeth are showing, which are a sign that it wants you to stay away. When his muzzle has turned to silver, like my dog, Banjo's, and he has changes in appetite his weight loss and his inability to hold down his meals are a sign that he might have cancer, and that our time together is limited.

And we may not know what Jesus followers expected from the signs that he gave them, but we know that when the events came, they could very easily remember his words to them and be prepare for them. But you cannot read this text without realizing that these very signs are very easily in evidence in the world around us today. 

Because the sun, the moon and the stars can describe the change we are living in today, as the very heavens treat the world differently due to worldwide climate change. The distress among the earth by the roaring of the waves and the sea as the water levels rise and island nations which were once sanctuaries to their peoples now threaten to flood and disappear from the surface of the oceans in a few short years. 

And it is hard to read the signs that Jesus gives us and not think of the strife that takes place in the world around us, and particularly our reaction to it, driven by the instantaneous nature of the news cycle and fear-driven media frenzies that surround them. People fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming. Surely we live in the end times, we hear them say. Because how can we go on the way we have before when all around us is changing?  

But this, my sisters and brothers, is the dawn of hope, the wonder of the advent of Christ. Because as we look toward the return of the Messiah, even as we anticipate his birth in our church season, we can see that we are already beginning live in this changing world. That we, the people of God, are already understanding that No! We cannot go on the way we have before. The world needs the change and the world needs the new hope. That we are not justified by our own behaviors in response to fear of the world around us and people who are not at all what we expect them to be, but we are justified by his righteousness, that God's holy spirit even now lives among us and gives us a choice to live in the truth that looks toward the hope of a better future, one which includes our fellow human being rather than disposes of it. 

That we can no longer call it community when we only acknowledge those of our social degree, ignoring those who are sleeping in the doors and steps, and avoiding those whose skin color is not like ours. 

That we can no longer consider ourselves hospitable by letting in only immigrants who fit our religious and ethnic mold while telling those who worship God in different ways that they have to remain in the danger that exists in their homelands.  

That we cannot share a world with seven billion human beings while continuing to imagine that the world ends at the 49th parallel and the Rio Grande. What we do in this country affects the whole world, and what happens outside our illusory borders will always come back to affect us inside.

We are given these signs not just to make us tremble in fear, but to encourage us to be the voice in the world, to live out our vocation. When it is said that they will know us by our love, it is because that is how we who are granted the gift of faith in God live out that gift, that we uplift one another and ensure that God's justice is delivered in the world, for each other.  

We see the signs as hope and opportunities to grow. We see the signs as an opportunity to change and become new and better people. We see the signs not as something to fear but as gifts, evidence of God's love for us, because with these signs we know that his guidance remains with us on earth. We see the signs and we are able to hope for a new and wonderful future that frees us from what miseries yet remain on earth, that frees us from the strife and trouble, where his reign is manifest and his love for us drives us to find only love for each other. 

So the good news goes forth. A child will be born in humble dwelling. Christ is coming in his glory. And the people of God rejoice.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on November 29, 2015 1:22 PM.

One Creation, Under God: Sermon on John 18:33-37 was the previous entry in this blog.

Take a Moment - Sermon on Luke 3:1-6 is the next entry in this blog.

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