There are no undocumented immigrants or second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Everyone in welcome and we’re all valued for who we are. In Matthew’s Gospel, the parable of the lost sheep serves as a parable of life in community and especially of caring for the most needy and vulnerable among us. A kingdom inspired church, therefore, refuses to discriminate between rich and poor, professionals and laborers, brown, black and white, straight and gay, or male and female. We all belong.
The movie, “The Two Popes,” about a fictional conversation between Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bergoglio (who became Pope Francis), makes a good segue to Jesus’ parable of the sower and the outrageously abundant harvest. The conversation between two very different men with different visions for the future of the church is filled with an abundance of grace and the capacity to reach beyond set positions to recognize our common humanity and faith.
As an avid gardener, I know the excitement and joy of new beginnings every spring. But I’m also aware that things are stirring in my garden even in the dead of winter. This is how it was when Mary was “found with child” and Joseph struggled with what he should do. The birth of this child would forever change their lives. Like them, we’re invited to say goodbye to a world that’s ending in order to say hello to God’s new world coming.
The Advent theme of “joy” is complicated by the underlying despair in our scripture texts and in our world. Advent joy is not a fake happiness but rather a joy that is deeper than the good times and the bad times that life metes out. Such joy lies in God and strengthens us in our love for the world.
Isaiah’s vivid dream, in which all manner of animals live in peace and are led by a child, inspires our imaginations. Paul’s letter to the Romans then brings our dreams of peace down to all the messy stuff of human relationships. In Christ, we are enabled to reach out beyond our church fellowship to become a community of reconciliation.
Advent is a time of waiting, but what are we waiting for? The prophet Isaiah envisions a world at peace where all will be eager to walk in God’s paths. Can we even imagine a world without violence and war? In Matthew 24, Jesus keeps repeating the admonition to keep awake and watch in the midst of suffering and social chaos. Being shaken out of our comfort zone may be necessary for change to happen. We need the call to stay awake but we also need a hope-filled vision of God’s new world coming—something we can give our hearts and lives to.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I’m especially grateful for public school teachers who put so much energy into helping their students flourish and into extra efforts to meet the needs of the disadvantaged in our community. I’m also so grateful for our church’s generous support of my ministry that has enabled me to minister outside the walls of our church in various efforts to improve the lives of people in our community. This is an example of how Jesus guides us on the path of peace (Luke 1: 79).
Growing up as a farm boy, I learned so much about our natural world. As we immerse ourselves in God’s creation we come to love it and then will do all we can to help sustain it. All faith traditions teach the sacred worth of every person and affirm our interdependence with each other and with our world. Our congregation will want to draw on the spiritual resources in our tradition as we work together with all who love and care for our natural environment.
: How we imagine God’s future shapes our lives today. The Sadducees who confronted Jesus with their “gotcha” question about the resurrection completely ignored the former life and hopes of the deceased woman who is at the center of their question. She remains nameless. Jesus sidesteps the cultural expectations that underlie their question and tells them that our God is a God of the living, not of the dead. In God’s future we all have worth and a name. Likewise, as the writer of 2 Thessalonians asserts, we are freed from anxiety through the grace of God’s eternal comfort and good hope.
A former church member recently came back to visit and dropped off his personal file of records going back more than 30 years. I was sifting through those files as I was writing this All Saints Day sermon. I’m inspired by that faint paper trail of people who invested themselves in the life of our church. I relate it to the writer of the book of Hebrews’ gallery of faithful people stretching back thousands of years to the beginning of the Jewish people. Their faith is not complete without ours and I meditate on the sacred bond and love that connects us through time.