The Tools of Grace
Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.The Rev. Ben Helmer writes of this passage challenging a congregation to always be ready saying:
Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Not long ago a couple went to a church, a large and prosperous one, for the first time. As they walked down a corridor they smiled at a number of people, but no one greeted them. Everyone was preoccupied with herding the choir and acolytes, getting business attended to about the coming bazaar, and depositing their children in Sunday school. As they entered the church, an usher in the back handed them a bulletin while engaged in earnest conversation with someone else, his face turned away from them. Afterward, the couple agreed the congregation was too preoccupied to engage in the simple act of hospitality.Later in the same sermon, Ben says,
And so are we, too preoccupied. Eugene Peterson translates part of this passage from Luke today, “Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping” (Luke 21:34). A season of preparation and expectation should permeate all that we do, from expecting and welcoming visitors, to focusing on what’s really important: our relationship with God and the Messiah who is to come.
Let’s play that scene from the church again: It’s Sunday morning. A couple arrives for the first time and they are greeted at the door by someone who says, “Welcome. May I sit with you this morning?” After Church, they are taken to the coffee hour and introduced to the clergy, and others. It’s all about them, and suddenly they’re not strangers, but part of a new community of welcome and light instead of the preoccupied one above....The full text of his sermon is online here: The Tools of Grace
In Jeremiah, we get a short and pithy message: “God keeps his promises.” Nobody has to wonder about that. Jeremiah had to tell his wealthy friends and others that things weren’t right between them and God. But he also got to say that God was going to do something about that, even if they weren’t. He was going to re-establish righteousness, a right relationship between God and God’s people. In this brief passage one has the feeling it’s a done deal, so you might as well enjoy the show! The passage also proclaims God’s intention of justice and righteousness in the land—a hope that has sustained faithful people through many faithless times, and continues to do so. God redeems messes.
In the passage from I Thessalonians the writer prays that the people who are the beloved believers will be blameless before God at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all the saints. And it all comes out of the boundless love that they share with one another. They have imitated Christ, and their reward will be Christ’s sustaining love forever.
So, we have the tools of grace, faith (promises kept), and our capacity to imitate Christ to use in our Advent journey. We can still shop, maybe even go to a party or two, but they’re not the main thing. The main thing is that even when the news is bad, and it’s not very good right now, even when terrible things are happening and we get them flashed live into our homes, they are not God’s message. God’s message is a response. “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Labels: Gospel reading