November 29, 2020 Embodiment of Hope, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Mark 13:24-37 “But in those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory;
then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Promised One is near, right at the door. The truth is, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away. “But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Only Begotten—no one but Abba God, Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come. “It is like people traveling abroad. They leave their home and put the workers in charge, each with a certain task, and those who watch at the front gate are ordered to stay on the alert. So stay alert! You do not know when the owner of the house is coming, whether at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows or at early dawn. Do not let the owner come suddenly and catch you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all, stay alert!”
I invite you to turn down the lights for a moment, or close your eyes. Imagine or feel darkness around you. We sit in the darkness of these difficult days and sense that even on these darkest days of the year. we are not alone. Breathe into and out of this moment of hope.
November 29, 2020 Embodiment of Hope St. Luke UMC
In the beginning. In the beginning God. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. We sit in that darkness in the middle of the pandemic surge. We sit in that darkness as the days get shorter and we come to the longest nights of the year.
We sit in that darkness and we light a candle - one candle, one little candle that we call hope. This Sunday we begin the new year on the Christian calendar. Today we remember that darkness of the beginning.
We also read about the end - the time we look forward to of the return of Christ. The gospel of Mark talks about a time of darkness then as well, an endtime. “But in those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
At the beginning and at the end we know God is with us. The last words in the Christian Bible are words of God’s kingdom coming to us on earth, the city of God coming among us. As it says in Revelation, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with mortals. God will dwell with them, and they shall be God’s people, and God Godself will be with them.”
In the beginning, God. In the end, God. And in between, Emmanuel, God with us. This is the season when we look forward to God being born into our world, an incarnation, an embodiment. God comes to us as a baby asking us to grow up. God is born into humanity, “God with us” not merely or primarily to shield us from the dark side of life, but to be with us and to go with us through the valley of the shadow, whether of death or despair, suffering or tragedy.” [John B. Rogers, Jr. Montreat, NC, Journal for Preachers, p. 3, Advent 2020]
In the middle of the mess, Christ is born, the embodiment of hope. So, this vision of God in the beginning, God in the end, and God with us in Jesus Christ is a call to, not a substitute for, obedient action and faithful living in the world. We are called to engage our own bodies in the needs of this world - to notice and empathize, to have compassion and walk with those Jesus walks with.
These faith claims we make here in church - God in the beginning, God in the end - these are not scientific claims of course. These are faith claims. We are counting on science to help us in the darkness of the pandemic - to help us preserve each other until we get a vaccine to immunize folks against the virus. God is in that process too of course. We are counting on these scientific understandings to solve a problem affecting and afflicting and threatening our bodies. We have faith that solutions to these problems are coming.
That’s not the only prayer we have at church though - a prayer for solutions to problems. We have to distinguish between problems and mysteries. A problem can be solved by greater knowledge. A mystery is enhanced by knowledge. “The proper response to a problem is hard work, study, research, and experimentation. The proper response to a mystery is wonder, awe, prayer, and worship.” [John B. Rogers, p. 3]
The difference between a problem and mystery is not, however, a difference of body and spirit. On the contrary, how many people do you know who came felt the mystery and wonder of God most profoundly at the birth of a child? Or when a parent died? Those liminal times between life and non-life, when life is most associated with a body in front of us, those are the times when we truly experience the power and mystery of the Living God.
We sit in the darkness today, the darkness of the pandemic, effecting hundreds of thousands of bodies, waiting in hope for a vaccine, waiting in hope for an end to the suffering, waiting in hope for the end of the isolation from each other.
We sit in the darkness today, the darkness of the mystery, the hiding place that we’ll sing about in a minute, the mystery that upholds and sustains us. We sit in the darkness knowing that many of our brothers and sisters are sitting with pain, sickness, even violence. Many of us have trouble living into hope in a time like this, and the mystery is that we do hold that hope for each other, until the other can hold that hope for
themselves. Sometimes faith is hardly enough to get us through, only enough to help us endure, or to help each other endure for the moment.
And yet we light this one candle in the darkness. We hope for science to solve the problem of the virus - with masks and vaccine - we hope. We count on the presence of the Spirit, in the middle of the mess, in the mystery of the moment. We know that God is being born into our body through the hopes we share with each other this day, even if the hope is tenuous, even if the hope is weak. God is blowing on the little flame of hope until it can catch on its own and become its own flame.
I know that God is being born into this darkness because I have experienced that mystery in past moments of darkness. In one of the most difficult times in my life, I found myself in seminary. It was out of a bit of desperation. Seminary for me was a hiding place, a place to lick my wounds and recover myself. And a candle got lit.
This too is a time of desperation, a time when many of us are in a hiding place whether we like it or not. These times of darkness and desperation are when single candles get lit, when people discover a calling. when we lean in to mystery and learn to trust in God’s presence. Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you - with my whole self. Body, soul, and spirit.
God is with us in this dark time my friends, born into our little bits of hope, our one candle lit in the darkness. We sit in the mystery, and God sits beside us.
This is God’s good news.
Responsive Hymn. Hymn 2055 You Are My Hiding Place