First Sunday in Advent; November 27, 2016, Year A
Isaiah 2.1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who will come again, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When I have traveled to other countries like Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and Turkey, I feel like my life is in the hands of whoever is driving. I feel this way, too, here on the roads, especially just making a trip to Wisconsin and back for Thanksgiving, but the possibility of a crash is much more apparent in other countries when there is bumper to bumper traffic, or livestock in the middle of the road, or if I’m brave enough to look out the window over an edge of a cliff knowing that if another car would come from the opposite direction there would not be enough room to get by.
When I travel in other countries I feel like I have no control over my own life whatsoever. I offer up a prayer and hope we arrive at our destination in one piece.
It is unsettling to feel not in control. In many ways we try and structure our lives so we have some control through schedules, savings accounts, smart phones, counseling, a planner, earning a diploma or GED, or doing well to get off DJS.
This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just that we can suffer the illusion that we have more control than we actually do.
There are times in our lives in which we come to understand how very little control we have. These times are never fun and often quite painful. I think of our country and our own community as we enter the season of Advent.
Even though the election is over, people are reeling with uncertainty. Will the divisions between people heal? Some wonder, did my vote matter? What will the next four years be like? Now with a demand for a recount in certain states, will their be even more unrest with the transition to a new president?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, we can be left with a sense of helplessness to rectify the situation.
And here in our own community tensions mount as more people come to protest the pipeline. Protests are happening more frequently in Bismarck and Mandan, reminding all of their presence and purpose. We hear of more confrontations between protestors and police, some even violent. There is a public outcry for resolution and a diplomatic solution.
I know some of you have family in the camps or know people who have spent time there. People on all sides of the issue are scared and worried. No one wants anyone to die. The whole situation feels out of control, especially because very few people know the full truth by nature of the complexity of the situation. We listen to the media we want to hear and rarely hear voices who may feel differently than us.
Hearts ache for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their plight, hearts are with the police who have been caught up in legalities of land ownership and broken treaties, hearts are sympathetic to farmers and ranchers, hearts are torn apart and weeping because so few see a just resolve to the conflict. It all feels so heavy.
We open our hands and plead, Come Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace.
Today we enter into the season of Advent. Every year this Sunday has a Scripture reading that speaks of the Apocalypse, or the “end times,” really what it’s going to be like when Jesus returns like he promised.
It’s true that sometimes it can feel as if we are living in the last days. We take a look at the world around us and see war, and famines, and floods, and protests, and division. What control can we possibly have?
And then Jesus tells us that no one, not even he knows when the day and the hour will be that God has appointed for the transformation of all things. It seems the end will come without sign or warning even in the best and most peaceful of times, when people are getting married and going to work just like any other day. Again, what control can we possibly have?
How does God help us when life feels out of control, when we have a growing sense of anxiety?
One way is to know Jesus. Arland Hultgren writes: “The Christ who is to come to us is the Christ who once lived among us on the earth, and who is known in the Gospel story as the friend and healer of those in need (www.workingpreacher).” The One who is to come again is the One who has already died for you. We are not to be anxious.
Another way God keeps a handle on our anxiety is through what God has revealed to us about God’s plan for our future together. We have the beautiful vision in Revelation where heaven and earth are joined. God dwells with the people. Pain, suffering, death, and division are no more. This is something we are to look forward to.
We also see in Isaiah the kind of transformation God is planning for the world. Nations will beat their swords and their spears into plowshares and pruning hooks. What does this mean? It means that weapons that are made to take life and kill others are transformed into tools that cultivate the earth and tend plants. There is no room for violence in the Kingdom of God.
Some of this transformation is happening already in a Christian community called “The Simple Way.” It is in Philadelphia, and led by Shane Claiborne. One year ago the confirmation students and I heard Shane speak in Bismarck at Trinity Lutheran. He spoke of this text in Isaiah where weapons are turned into gardening tools. He thought, “Why wait … why not start this kingdom work now?”
So, his community put a message out for people to give up their automatic weapons and send them to Pennsylvania. Many people did. Then the people in Shane’s community literally transformed the automatic weapons into shovels, garden hoes, and pruning hooks.
His community is a force for peace. As Christian people we are not to sit around simply waiting for Jesus to come again. The Spirit of God calls us to be awake and work in this world to be instruments of peace, even against insurmountable odds.
This week I kept thinking about the prayer of Saint Francis. Even though so much of life feels out of control, we can take the example of the Simple Way community and other people of faith who continue to help Christ usher in the Kingdom of God. Some things are in our control and I believe Saint Francis’ prayer keep us focused on what God can do in and through each of us. His prayer goes like this:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
It’s true that I don’t know what is going to happen in our country throughout the next 4 years. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the pipeline and the protests. I don’t know what’s even going to happen tomorrow.
What I do know is that even in the worst of times we are in the best of hands with God. We may not be in control, and perhaps that’s the best place to be. When we know we don’t have control, we turn to and trust in God. Our illusions of control are stripped away, and in our vulnerability we become what we were always meant to be: a child who trusts in their loving parent.