December 5, 2021, Housing The Holy: A Place At The Table,  by Pastor David

Baruch 5: 1-5 (CEB) Take off your mourning clothes and oppression, Jerusalem! Dress yourself in the dignity of God’s glory forever. Wrap the justice that comes from God around yourself like a robe. Place the eternal one’s glory on your head like a crown. God will show your brilliance everywhere under heaven. God will give you this name by which to be called forever: The Peace That Comes from Justice, The Honor That Comes from Reverence for God! Get up, Jerusalem! Stand on the high place, and look around to the east! See your children gathered from the west to the east by the holy one’s word, as they rejoice that God has remembered them.

Anthem “For Everyone Born” [SATB]

In this moment of silence, we reflect on the words of scripture and the song as we prepare ourselves to dig deeper into God’s message for us today.

December 5, 2021 Housing the Holy: A Place at the Table

“Can I be excused?” The answer in my house growing up was predictable. I should have seen it coming: “It’s ‘May I be excused. Please!’ and no, not until everybody is finished eating.” I rolled my eyes at my brother, trying to will him to finish his dessert faster, so we could go off and do more important things, like seeing if the dog would eat Necco Wafers. (We found out should would eat any of the candy wafers but the white ones.) “May I be excused, please?” “Yes, you may.” And we would bolt from the table like a shot.

We were not a patient bunch, me and my brothers. Sometimes, if we had a guest, he was trying to be more polite and follow the rules and stay at the table a bit, or help take dishes into the kitchen. I would be rolling my eyes again, trying to get him to come play. But there was always a place at the table for a guest. Some folks always have an empty chair at the table to symbolize a place for the guest, This is particularly appropriate in Advent.

Advent and Christmas are often times when the table expands, when guests come, and things slow down. (I love it when we put extra slats into the table to make it longer so more people can fit.) Some of us may be impatient. Some of us may want to be excused. But this is a time for all of us to find our place at the table. This is a time to stay at the table. And this is a time to hope for the one who is being born - to have a place in our lives. 

Paul, in his letter to Philippians was expecting a guest - expecting the return of Jesus. We read from the very beginning of Paul’s letter when he is appreciating the community that had gathered and stayed faithful after hearing his message of the coming of Christ. He loved these people. He said to them, “I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul clearly thought that Jesus was going to return in their lifetimes and that their community would see that day together, that their joy would be complete and full on that day. During this season of Advent, we look forward to the day of the birth of the Christ child. It would be great if we could look forward with as much hope and expectation as Paul had, that God’s dreams are finally going to be fulfilled. 

I have to admit that I am having a lot of feelings during this season about my coming retirement. I think about the different holidays and I want to cry thinking this is the last time I get to celebrate All Saints Day in this way in this place - or Christmas Eve or whatever - the second Sunday of Advent. I keep trying to tell myself I have until the end of June, but the time starts to seem really short. In some ways feels like it’s too soon or dangerous to talk about. Maybe if we just didn’t mention it everything will be fine. 
Folks here have been very gracious about saying the right things - generously saying, “You deserve it. Congratulations. Good for you.” And at the same time I know that if I asked to be excused from the table, some of you would say, ‘No, not until we’re finished. Not until everybody is done. Not until Jesus returns.” 
I want you to know I have some of the same feelings. I can’t really imagine my life apart from this place. I sort of know what I’m doing here in a way I don’t anywhere else. My life has become totally intertwined with the ministry here and it is wrenching to think about how to be a different person. It’s like a little death. And it hurts. I know it’s still a ways off, but I know some of you are also feeling it, and I hate acknowledging it, but I feel it too. I feel it with those of you I have been hanging out with for 25 years, and in some ways, I feel the loss even more with those of you who have just come to the table, who I still want to get to know better. 

Maybe we shouldn’t talk about it. I’m afraid I’ll cry, and I’m afraid I’ll make you feel bad. But really I announced it to all of us to give us time to deal with the feelings and I think it will help to talk about it, even if it hurts. We always say at a funeral that it’s a celebration of life. And it is. On Friday we celebrated Connie Borum’s life. It’s not all celebration though, is it? I felt the hurt and I knew that saying goodbye to her, part of the reason it hurt was a bigger goodbye that I’m starting to say to this ministry. 
So listen, what I want to do in the next sixth months is to celebrate the ministry that we have been able to do together and the ministry that is continuing. I want to notice and celebrate the ways in which we are expanding the table, reaching out and making room for one more. And especially in this season, I want us to wait and watch and work for the incarnation of God in Christ, the very presence of the Spirit, the new reign of the Living God in our midst. I’m not done yet, and I am still looking forward to every week, every song, every Sunday celebration. 

As we prepare for Holy Communion together, let me read to you the words from Paul which reflect in some ways better than I could say it, my feelings about you:

Second Reading.  Philippians 1:3-11 (CEB) I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. 50 I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. 51 You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. 53 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.

Those are beautiful words. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Paul was confident that even when they were distanced, he and his beloved congregation in Philippi were connected through the love of Christ, the incarnation of the Living God, the very presence of God, which we celebrate in the meal we share this day. God’s good news.

Before we get to Holy Communion - on communion Sunday, we encourage each other in our giving by a special mission offering. This month our Communion offering goes to the buying of gifts for young people at the Methodist Home for Children. Next Sunday when we will have the mitten tree offering so you can bring hats and scarves and gloves to hang on the tree. 

Each week during Advent, we are noticing one piece of our ministry that makes room for people in the Inn. Last week, we talked a little about the Methodist Home for Children. Today, I want to mention the ministry of Lauri Cumming. She is an innkeeper in her own way - often making room for extra people at the table. When Mindy, a Bryn Mawr student needed a place to stay after she graduated from college, guess where she stayed? That’s right, at the Cumming house. 

The Cumming family exemplifies the welcoming ministry of this church. They help in so many ways to make this church work, and to make extra room at the table for anyone who walks in the door. So as we have our offertory and Carl sings, I invite you to give in their spirit for the church and for all our ministries. 

You may pick up a cup of the communion elements for each member of your family at the same time. Please hold the cup and we will all take communion together after our prayer of thanksgiving and institution.