Text: Luke 2:7-21, 25-32
Peace is Possible
Peace: It’s the watchword on this first Sunday of Advent. We began:
Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Mourning ‘neath their sorrows load
Speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them
Tell her that her sins I cover
And her warfare now is over…
In a crescendo through the service, “Peace’ keeps being our spoken request. In Psalm 122, we read, “Peace be within your walls…I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’”
And then from Isaiah, Anne read to us of this time:
When they shall [be able to]
beat their swords into ploughshares,
And their spears into pruning-hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.
When there won’t be gun ranges, like golf driving ranges, where people practice
not hitting a small ball, but hitting an outline of another person, a bulls-eye to the heart.
Luke 23: 33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Luke 21: 5-18
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 1Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish.
More than anything else in my life, the thing that I most want to learn and live, --deep down in my bones, in my core, is to trust God. To know that I am loved unconditionally, to believe that I’m not in the universe alone.
And I’ve had just enough of a glimpse of that -- a sweet, precious taste of it -- to know that when I do live in this trust, those moments of my life are radically different. To trust ever more deeply would change my life. I’d live in less fear and more love.
In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.
Rebuilding a Temple
In January, I first met with the Vestry and Parish Council of King’s Chapel, to discern together whether I might be called to serve as the new minister here. Sometime during those conversations, I referred to members of King’s Chapel as the “holy remnant.”
Holy Remnant! Some eyebrows raised, some eyes widened. Holy remnant? What did that mean?
Because a remnant could sound like the leftovers, the dribs and drabs. For those who sew, remnants are the small pieces of fabric left on a bolt when most of the yardage has been sold, pieces of cloth that cannot be easily used for most sewing projects, cannot be made into a full dress or be sewn into a full length drape.
But that was not the image I had in mind when I called you a “holy remnant.”
Luke 19: 1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Zaccheaus and the Red Sox on All Saints’ Day
Yesterday was an extraordinary day to be a Bostonian. The day broke warm and sunny, nearing 65 by mid-morning. The tall trees of Boston Common and the Public Garden were flushed red, yellow and orange, still donned in fall’s finery. Slowly the streets around our parish house on Beacon Street and the church here on Tremont began to fill with families and college students, young working people and seniors, people of all shades and sizes, from every neighborhood, from all around New England. I stood with a man from Colorado who flew in just for the day.
Most in the crowd wore Red Sox garb of one kind or another – hats, shirts, jackets, or fake beards. The young man next to me had on an army helmet and goggles, to mimic Sox player Jonny Gomes. By 11 AM, near the Boston Common on Boylston Street where I stood, the crowd was thirty-deep on one side, ten deep on the other. I couldn’t initially find my husband Bob and his friends, but they saw me and hailed me over.
Here near the church, those who were lost looked for one another, too, and pressed up against our gate. All of us, whatever our location, were anticipating the ones we were waiting for. Everyone craned heads and necks, stood on tip toe, leaned right or left among the crowd, to catch a glimpse of the 2013 World Series Champions, our Boston Red Sox, riding Duck Boats on parade.
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
On the Journey: Learning from the Red Sox
When are we entitled to hold other people in contempt? To reject them and scorn them?
According to Luke, Jesus told today’s parable “to some who trusted in themselves...and regarded others with contempt.”
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the small Latin America country of Honduras. Cascades of torrential rain caused massive landslides, destroying thousands of small homes built precariously on mountainous hillsides. A year and a half later, members of King’s Chapel traveled there with Habitat for Humanity to build new homes. They stayed in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, and each day drove out a twisting mountain road to the build site.
One of those who went was Brooke Chandler, the daughter of our member Fay Larkin, and step-daughter of Miguel Gomez-Ibanez. Brooke, then a teenager, wrote this, which her aunt, Julie Hyde, shared with me this week:
“Along the road we drove each day to the work site,” wrote Brooke, “a cliff reaching high above us [was] on our left, and a clear drop fell off to our right. We could see pieces of houses hanging on to cliffs. The houses that had slid down [in the hurricane] still filled up the sides of mountains, splattered with the colors of clothes and trash. Everything in the houses was left as it had fallen, including the people, a year and a half later!....There [had been] no resources available to make it possible to get to [the people], and no proper medical care even if someone [had been] still alive in the rubble.”
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’
The Most Important Word
Here’s a marvelous theological party game, one I’m sure all of you will want to try at your next dinner party: What’s the most important word in the Bible?
Now I acknowledge that this particular game may not be your idea of a really fun time. But bear with me and imagine; pretend it’s a scintillating question, in your world, as it is in mind. The most important word in the Bible?
Our minds spin -- there could be so many answers. Who knows? The most important word in the Bible? Could it be God, or Jesus; maybe sin or forgive…. Could it be mercy or repent or love?
Luke 15: 1-13
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
‘Or what woman having ten silver coins,* if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’