Deepening our Rootedness

December 2, 2012

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Sermon on Luke 21:25-36, given while serving as seminarian

Advent 1 – Year C (RCL) 

Jeremiah 33:14-16, 1Thessalonians 3:9-13 & Luke 21:25-36

Good morning! Welcome back into the sanctuary of Christ Church!

What an exciting way to begin a new church year… with a new look, though not completely changed. A familiarity, yet some things have changed. Not just the colors of the altar coverings and vestments this year, but transformation of the sanctuary itself.

For those of you who were able to be with us for worship in the Youth Center the past few Sundays, you have a double change – you might actually be missing the fall leaves as the backdrop to the altar, as nature enhanced that worship space. Or, for some who have attended Christ Church for a long time, the changes made in this sanctuary might take some getting used to, not because they aren’t wonderful and welcome, but simply because they are different.

You see, each new beginning is always accompanied by the ending of something else. Even when that “something new” is desired – it could be a new job or school, a new relationship, a new community to live in, or the new look of the sanctuary. These are things we embrace and welcome, yet still there is an adjustment and something left behind.

Other changes may not be of our choosing… to live without someone we’ve lost, either to death, divorce or distance; or we may find ourselves unemployed, losing not only the security of a paycheck, but interaction with colleagues and a life-structure we had grown accustomed to. The upcoming holidays can make these unwanted changes even more difficult.

On this first Sunday of Advent, the gospel reading itself is unfamiliar and jarring. As we are beginning a new church year, the apocalyptic message foretells dramatic, catastrophic ending of things. Jesus speaks of signs in the sky, and on the earth that will cause distress among the nations. He warns his disciples that “people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” and even the “powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

And with these endings, it goes on to announce something new will occur – that “they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory” and when these things take place, those who see these things are to stand up and raise their heads, because redemption is drawing near.”

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a good time to run for cover, not to raise our heads – it sounds like all that is familiar is passing away, and for someone that is change-averse, that can be pretty unsettling!

And the passage goes on: Jesus says, “BE ON GUARD, so your hearts are not weighed down with the worries and excesses of this life.” These worries of life can be distracting and unhelpful. Jesus warns them to be careful, so that this apocalyptic day will not catch them unexpectedly, LIKE A TRAP!Jesus says, “be alert at all times, praying that you have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Just a few verses earlier, Jesus tells the disciples that there will be wars and insurrections, earthquakes and famines, and other signs from heaven – that these will take place first – and that the end will not come immediately. Others will come in Jesus’ name, so he warns the disciples to be careful not to be led astray!

The disciples, not surprisingly ask, “what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” It’s a valid question. How can they recognize which crises of this world are the true signs of the coming of the Son of Man from the ones that will occur earlier and are necessary, but are simply predecessor-events?

The Luke passage attempts to provide an answer to the disciples question with a short parable found right in the middle of today’s reading. Jesus says:

Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Oh, of course, now it’s perfectly clear, isn’t it?

Not exactly… especially since we, with our modern-day lectionary, hear Luke’s gospel in bits and pieces. But if we look at this parable as an extension of an earlier parable from Luke’s narrative, the story about the sower and the seeds, Jesus’ answer in today’s lesson seems to become a little clearer.

In Luke Chapter 8, Jesus tells the familiar parable of the sower who scattered seeds. One seed fell on the path and was trampled and the birds came and ate it; one fell on the rocky soil, and though it grew, it lacked water, so it withered and died; another seed fell among the thorns, and these thorns grew up around it and choked it, and finally, the seed that fell on good soil and produced a hundredfold.

When explaining the parable to his disciples, Jesus begins by saying that the seed is the word of God – this word of God is implanted in each of us, in our hearts. Even so, for some, although implanted, it doesn’t take root. For others, it takes root, but these roots are not deep enough to endure over time because they are not being fed and nourished. Other seeds begin to grow, but the pleasures and worries of the world become like weeds that choke-out the word of God.

These are the same worries that we are told of in today’s reading and warned to BE ON GUARD – to not be weighed down with excesses and worries of this life.

But, the seed that falls on the good soil, Jesus says that the receiver “holds it fast in an honest and good heart” and it will bear fruit and have endurance.

The evidence of this endurance and growth is shown through what is perhaps a continuation of this parable, seen in today’s reading – the fig tree begins to show signs of budding, it sprouts leaves, making clear that God’s word is becoming fruitful. It has made it through the turbulence and unrest and taken deep root.

Even so, this good news is set among apocalyptic warnings. What are we to make of that… what does that say about the nature of our journey with Christ?

I hear it say that there are things in this world that will challenge us – turmoil and strife – not only external things, but turmoil within ourselves.

  • Self-doubt can be a destructive force in our lives;
  • Struggles with our own self-worth can undermine our ability to live into the person God has made us to be.
  • The worries of this life – are we living up to others’ expectations, or even more troubling, are we living up to our own expectations – likely unrealistic expectations, if I had to wager on it!

These internal insurrections can cause us to be paralyzed with fear and can shake our faith.
Jesus tells us to BE ALERT and he prays that we may have the strength to escape these things – or if not to escape them, to endure them, and to seek God’s guidance as we navigate the turbulent and roaring seas of our life. And though at times it may seem that all is lost, that heaven and earth has passed away, we rest in the promise that the word of God will not pass away. The seed that has been implanted in our hearts will endure forever.

This seed is the promise of God’s continuing and perpetual presence in our hearts and in our lives. But like the seeds in the parable, the growth is not automatic. We must care for and cultivate it… it takes deliberate work to bring this seed of God’s presence to a place where we can see tangible signs of it in our life. Though this work happens throughout the year, Advent is one of those times in the church year where we pay particular attention to this deliberate work.

Anyone who has put a seed in the dirt, covered it carefully with soil, worried as the rain pours down, hoping the seed won’t be carried away in the water – this person knows what the work of Advent looks like. They also know that even though the seed is firmly in the soil, we still must wait. And, while we wait, we continue to watch, feed, water and nurture the patch of dirt that holds the seed.

That patch of dirt is our heart in which God has implanted the seed that is God’s word – God’s presence. We are called to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s word, and in doing this, we bring the kingdom of God near to us.

The Advent wreath that some of you made last week is a way of reminding us of this waiting. Perhaps you gather with friends or family when you light the candles, say a prayer or read scripture – in this way, you are actively waiting; deliberately cultivating the seed of God’s love.

Others might use a special devotional book during the weeks of Advent, to help us BE more ALERT to the things around us… and to provide some focus, so we are not overcome by the worries of this life that can seem overwhelming at times.

Or, perhaps you might decide to take the service bulletin home with you today, and each Sunday of Advent. Then, each day during the week between Sundays, take a moment to re-read the scriptures and prayers. Think about them, and hear what God is saying to you.

What stirs your heart?

What takes root?

When we care for this seed that God implanted in our heart, when we are for it both individually and communally, we can’t help but see the signs of growth. It’s visible.

We are the fig tree!

Imagine with each new revelation, each new vision of who God is and how God would have you be in this world, with each of these, image a stalk breaking through the dirt, or a new leaf sprouting from the branch that is you.garden_dirt_plant_seed_grow

When we reach out to others in need, when we begin to focus more on how to bring about God’s kingdom in this world, in our midst, not waiting for end-times, or getting distracted by the worries of this world – by making changes in this world, our leaves begin to spring out even further.

And when we can see our own leaves, our own branches bearing fruit, it is in this way that we are standing up and raising our heads to embrace the love of God, as the redemptive love of God draws near.

May we welcome the new year with new ways of being and acting, toward ourselves and toward one another in the world. Living into who God would have us be, and sharing the good news of God in our lives, even in the midst of turmoil, being assured that the word of God, the love of God, will never pass away.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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