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December 9, 2018

“Endure: Promoting Social Righteousness”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Malachi 3.1-4

Luke 3.1-6

December 9, 2018

In the second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, the second year of the vice presidency of Mike Pence, the second year of governance of Eric Holcomb, in the fourth year of presidency of Lake Lambert at Hanover College, in the 198th year of Hanover Presbyterian Church, on the second Sunday in Advent in 2018, the Word of God came to us through a scripture reading. We come to the sanctuary this morning within this context. You probably have more context to add to this – in your thirteenth year as member or in the sixty-fifth year of your life, or in the tenth year since your diagnosis or your ninth year of sobriety. Wherever we come from, whatever our context, God is speaking.

The author of Luke gives us a similar context at the beginning of our reading. Most of the context given is political – and intentionally political. When we hear a story we should always know the setting. A timeframe helps us to understand what is going on in the story. If I say: “In Clinton’s presidency,” or “During Bush’s presidency” you have some concept of what was happening in the world. The author of Luke is setting the stage for the people to see that the Roman Empire was ruling over the Jewish people. Pontius Pilate was one of the leaders but was not known for his compassion for the Jews. He did not care for their religious practices and was known for putting up statues of Caesar – in direct contrast with the Jewish belief against idolatry.[1] This tension is happening as John hears this message from God.

John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, cousin to Mary. When Mary was pregnant she found out that Elizabeth was also pregnant – and unexpectedly so. Elizabeth had been thought to be barren and had John well into old age. John was an interesting fellow. We do not hear a full description here but in other Gospels he is described as eating wild honey and locusts and dressing in camel hair. The author of Luke does not pay attention to John’s clothes, but what is happening in the world around John. The people are battling with living under Roman rule and being able to practice their beliefs. John the Baptist comes into the community and begins telling them that Jesus is coming – they must repent.

To repent means completely disrupting our day, our lives, our ways of existing, and asking for forgiveness. John disrupts by coming out of the wilderness and preaching. Jesus disrupts our lives, coming in the form of an infant – perhaps one of the smallest beings to cause such a huge, yet welcome disruption. Advent is a time when we orient our lives in such a way that we welcome the disruption of Christ. Jesus’ return will be a disruption. We know that our world cannot continue the way it does because there is too much pain in the world. In order to create peace in a place that is hurting there must be a disruption of ways.

God chooses disruption. God chooses to create out of chaos. “God shows up because God wills it to be so.”[2] God chose to be with us, in the chaos, in the craziness of life. God didn’t have to, but wants to be with us.

John quotes the prophet Isaiah. He tells about preparing – the calling we have during the season of Advent. The word “Advent” means “to come.” We are waiting for God to come. As we heard last week, the Spanish word for longing is anhelo. We long for God, we have this anhelo during Advent – because God is not right here with us.

So, how do we wait? In the 198th year of Hanover Presbyterian Church, how do we wait? We know that in Advent we are called to an active waiting. This is not the kind of waiting where you can put on a good Hallmark movie and pop some popcorn and have the luxury of waiting while things happen around us. We must wait actively because others do not have the luxury. Others do not have the privilege of waiting for their next meal, or for their electricity to be turned back on, or whatever their need might be. As we wait we are called to repent: to repent of the ways that we have participated in oppressing others, and change our ways. We must evaluate our priorities. What better time to examine what is important to us than an extremely consumeristic season?

Repenting means that we can make space.[3] We need to clear out that which distracts us and harms us and harms other people and make the space for God, for peace. Perhaps we can set a daily intention of turning away from those ways or habits or things that separate us from God and one another, so that we can grow closer to one another.

John played the role of the messenger. He had a message of repentance for the people, and for us. Our second reading is from the book of Malachi. Many have thought Malachi was the name of a prophet, but it is possible that multiple prophetic voices were included in this book. The name literally means “my messenger.”[4] Malachi is a messenger for all. Messengers are present throughout the Bible.

The people who heard Malachi’s message, and who argued with him, were living after the exile.[5] The people are angry. They had been in exile but they are not happy with how God is handling their adversaries. Perhaps the best way to describe God’s method of reconciling is “restorative justice.”[6] In a world of chaos, we need restorative justice. Yet, this is the harder piece. It is easy to put someone in jail and throw away the key. It is much harder to work at a relationship and teach someone the skills they need to be in society.

As we explore what we are called to do in the season of Advent and waiting we are exploring the Great Ends of the Church. Printed in your bulletin, we are exploring a new one each week. The Book of Order suggests these are the Great Ends of the Church – this is our goal as a faith community. Today’s is the promoting of social righteousness. We are to fight for fair laws, for equality, for basic human needs to be met. In the United States, in the year 2018, in a world that has enough resources, but doesn’t have them allocated evenly, children are still going hungry. In our world, people are still dying of curable diseases because they do not have access to medical care. In Jefferson County in December 2018 people are still struggling with addiction, looking for housing, or trying to stretch their paychecks to cover the end of the month. We must repent of the ways that we have contributed to social inequality. We must share what we have and be generous in a world that is stingy and often self-focused.

I mentioned earlier that the Jews in Jesus’ time were surrounded by idolatry. Many of them could not bear to live with the oppression and so they would lay down in front of Roman soldiers, show their necks, and dare the soldiers to take their lives.[7] They were willing to die for their cause.

We do not need to die for our causes, but we need to speak up. God calls us to promote social righteousness, and what better way to wait for the coming realm of God than to reach out and try to make a difference in someone’s life? Amen.

 

[1] Victor Matthews, A Brief History of Ancient Israel. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 182.

[2] William H. Lamar IV, “Living By the Word” in Christian Century, November 7, 2018, Vol. 1135, No. 23, p. 20.

[3] Veli-Matti Karkkaainen, “Luke 3.1-6” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 48.

[4] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 8.

[5] Ibid., 9.

[6] Jennifer Ryan Ayers 28

[7] Matthews, 182.