Sunday, December 7, 2008

What Kind of People?

Isaiah 40:1-11
Mark 1:1-8
2 Peter 3

Advent 2

Bad news about our economy abounds these days. Once-in-a-generation unemployment rates, one-half million jobs lost in November alone, the big three US automakers in the death throes, record-high mortgage foreclosures, consumer confidence in the dumps, along with myriad other statistics and projections leave us wondering how bad it's going to be and how long we and it can last. At the heart of the volatility in the markets is a crisis in confidence, an awareness of our fundamental uncertainty as to where and when this downturn will end. Looking into such a scary future, we might even wonder whether it will end.

The three lectionary texts for the second Sunday in Advent have in common their assurance that everything eventually comes to an end. Isaiah emphasizes the promise of God that trouble doesn't last always. No matter how intense the trauma or hopeless the prospects, God's infinite lovingkindness insures that those who wait on the Lord have a good ending. Mark's gospel presents the preamble to the whole Gospel's message in that John the Baptizer's presence in the wilderness represented the end of a very long wait for God's people.

But it is the message of 2nd Peter that gets to the heart of the issue for us. After reminding the impatient and fainting believers that God will make good on the divine promise, the author then turns the spotlight on the community of faith: Since we know all of this, what kind of people ought we to be? In other words, since everything, including the world, will end, what do we want to be doing when the end comes?

Beloved, the church has something to offer that our culture at this moment sorely tneeds: a holy perspective. Even when we would want to forget, the message returns to us and like the prophet cries, "All flesh is grass." But the fact that everything on earth is in transition from its seed to flower then back to dust doesn't leave us hopeless; it points us to a more stable foundation. Our own frailty reminds us to seek a God who is neither frail nor fallible and whose word will stand. Grass withers, flowers fall, markets crash, people die, but the Word of our God stands forever. That's good news that we should share.

Sing, "Hold to God's Unchanging Hand"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Sing this Song for You

Psalm 18

One of my favorite films is "Family Man," in which Nicholas Cage plays a high powered Wall Street executive who awakes on Christmas morning to find himself in an alternative life, experiencing what would have happened if he had married his college sweetheart. The rest of the movie is about how Cage comes to value what money cannot buy. One of the turning points comes when he watches a video of himself singing the Delfonics' "La La Means I Love You" to his wife on her birthday. Although his voice would win no vocal awards, the poignancy of the moment derives from his soulful expression of love through the medium of song. There are few things more precious than having a loved one sing to another.

The Psalms, as you are well aware, represent the songbook of the Bible. And although we often think of the Psalms merely as a compilation of praise songs, most of them are more of a mixture of praise, reflection, and lament. Psalm 18 is different though. Titled as a song of David after his deliverance from Saul, this Psalm is a lovesong from a grateful believer to a gracious God. It is more than thank you note for all that God has done. It expresses the relationship between a righteous person and a covenant-keeping God. From the cords of death and the mighty waters to a redeemed life in a broad place, the Psalmist records the reversal of his fortunes that occurred because a loving God "bowed the heavens and came down" (v. 9).

In this season of Advent, we too have reason to sing a song of redemption because our Savior bowed the heavens and came down. We have a reason to pause, even in the midst of the ongoing crises of our lives, and sing a love song to the lover of our souls. Like Nicholas Cage's Jack, maybe observing ourselves singing the song will help us to see what really matters.

Sing, "My Jesus I Love Thee"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shock and Awe

Isaiah 1:18

Sometimes we just need a jolt of awareness to bring us back to our senses. Okay, perhaps I shouldn't speak for other people. Sometimes I just need a jolt to wake me up. The occasion for my renewed awareness this time was the funeral service for Rev. Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell, a pioneer woman in ministry. Dr. Mitchell lived for 91 years, 64 of them married to her partner in life and ministry Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell. What pleasantly startled me was the testimony of all who knew the Mitchells that she lived, they lived their whole lives - publicly and privately - with the love and goodness of God (to quote her daughter who gave the eulogy) as the foundation. I came away from the service awakened and inspired again to live faithfully.

In Isaiah chapter 1, there is much to shock and shake the people of God. Faithfulness and righteousness are no longer known among them. God is disappointed and angry. Yet within the pronouncement of judgment remains the promise of better things to come, a declaration of God's fundamentally good intention toward the people of God. There is hope; at the end of the purging, right relations and covenant will prevail and righteous acts will be restored.

Where, you ask, is the awe? It is the radiating glow of gratitude and thankfulness in God's people for the mercy that God continuously extends. At the point when God has extended the divine hand and drawn you near again with the steadfast love that drew you to begin with, who could help but stand in awe. I will be forever grateful for another chance, a deeper walk, a new opportunity.

Sing, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee"