Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Purpose-Passion-Witness

John 1:6-8, 19-28
December 14, 2015 Advent 3
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum


Here we are at the 3rd Sunday of Advent. We have lit the pink candle. We take a moment in the season to hear the words of Joy, to experience moments when the waiting raises our hopes.
We are getting anxious. Our time of waiting will soon be over but we are still waiting.

Waiting for the birth of a baby. Waiting for the fulfillment of prophecy. Waiting for the Good News.

Into our scene of waiting comes the strangest character of the Advent season. John the Baptizer. Not a man filled with joy.

The gospel of John leaves out the salient points about John, his strange clothing and even stranger diet. I’ve said before and will say it again, John will never show up on our Christmas cards. A man wearing stinking camel fur with grasshoppers and seed pods stuck between his teeth is even too crude for the baby born in a barn. Nope not a man filled with Joy.

But he was a man filled with passion. And purpose.

John had a following, people were coming into the wilderness to be baptized by him. In our day, he would probably have a TV program, a mega church, a blog…John was a character with some kind of charisma that drew people to him.

But unlike many celebrities, John knew who he was and who he wasn’t.

He knew who he wasn’t: I am not the light, I am not the Messiah, I am not the Prophet Elijah. I am not the one you are waiting for…I baptize with water…

But there is one coming who is more powerful than me…

We put a lot of stock in our rituals. I have said that if there is a ritual that guarantees us of some kind of heavenly reward, I have it sewn up. I was baptized as an infant in a Congregational Church, Confirmed as a teenager in a Methodist Church, Dunked in a baptismal font in a Baptist Church, Credentialed for ministry in two different Denominations, Ordained by laying on of hands twice in the Methodist Church.

But none of that matters unless I follow John’s example and realize that the power of the ritual is in the witness, not the ritual.

John knew who he was and his purpose…I baptize with water Someone greater comes after me and I am the witness to that person.

I am the witness. The witness to the light, the witness to the Messiah, the witness of the prophet, the witness of the one you have been waiting for.

I am the witness.
Now before you think this is just a small thing…insignificant…remember what the scripture says about John: He was a man sent from God…

Which of course is what I believe about all of us. We are men and women, sent from God with a purpose and an identity that we can chose to live into if we decide to be followers of Jesus.

John chose to live into his purpose and identity. John chose to testify to the coming of the Light in the world.

At the end of every service here at Chatfield United Methodist Church we symbolically, ritualistically carry the Light from the communion table down the aisle and into the world.
It is only a nice ritual, an empty symbol if no one who is in the congregation that Sunday choses to shine that Light into the communities in which they live.

But my hope and my belief is that this light is carried into the world and into our communities by at least one of you each week.

As a matter of fact, just this week I was at Mayo chatting with a person who is from Chatfield. When she realized I was the pastor of this church her response was, “Oh, you are the church that does so much for the community.” That made me proud.

I am, you are a witness…to the Light.

Witnesses were vital to the first Christmas.
Those persons we cluster around our nativity scenes, they aren’t there just to add to the crowd. They were all witnesses. Vital witnesses. Those shepherds…witnesses.
Trusting in the message of the angels…doesn’t that give you goose bumps just to think of it? They left their sheep. They LEFT their sheep…What shepherd would ever leave their sheep?
Risk their job, their livelihood? Risk everything. Because some angels told them to go into town and see a baby?

And as they bent over that manger, they believed. But that wasn’t enough for them. They also witnessed. Luke’s Gospel tells us: When they saw the baby they reported what they had heard about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherd told them. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

These shepherds became the witness to the Light that was now in the world. The Savior of the earth who was now born among us. Shepherds, people just like you and me. People who sit in the local coffee shops, hang out at the feed stores, shop at the Fleet Farm. Returned to their homes, praising God for what they had seen and heard.

I love going to the Silver Grill, JAC’s, Potter Auditorium, the schools, Lions and Commercial Club and sharing stories with my neighbors, I love hearing the good things that are happening in Chatfield. I love even more making sure that the good things about what God is dong in Chatfield are being heard at the tables in town. I take seriously my commitment to being the witness to the Light right here in Chatfield. That is why I keep showing up at the tables around town. That is why I go to Rochester every month to let people know that the United Methodist Church in Chatfield is concerned about our neighbors in Rochester.
Just this week we delivered toiletry kits for young women who are being recused from the streets of Rochester through Mission 21.
Our Quilts, Crafts and Conversation Group heard of the plight of these young girls and wanted to do their part in letting them know that they were being seen and heard. Light shone in a very dark corner of Rochester.

As you place the figures in the nativity sets, remember and celebrate: the witness these people, the shepherds and wisemen took out into the streets of the world and their homes, saying the Light has come. the Light is among us now. God is with us. Immanuel. Like us, these people are called to be witnesses not just observers.

As you light your Advent candles this week, remember, this is the Light that is in your home. It radiates from the cradle of Jesus, into the star of Bethlehem, into the words of Shepherds and wisemen, into our community of Chatfield.
As we have spoken in our liturgy this morning:

The great good news is that the glory of God is within each of us, especially when we find ourselves saying “yes” to the gifts God has given us, in service to the world. People of God, know that you are beloved beyond measure, and do not hide your light of joy, for it is this light that will heal the world.

Know your identity, know your purpose. You are witnesses to the Light.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jesus Without Christmas

Mark 1:1-8
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Jesus without Christmas
December 7, 2014

I’m in a funk this year. I usually love the holiday season. All of it, Christmas, Advent Hanukkah, Kwanza, the cold, the snow, the frost, the lights, the food, the music…All of it.
But this year, not so much. I don’t know what it is exactly. It could be the middle east, it could be police brutality, it could be a typhoon that is once again hitting the Philippians, I have friends who live in the Philippians, or it could be that so many of you are dealing with difficult health issues and you are on my heart and in my prayers. It could be a lot of things.

I don’t know what it is exactly. All I know is that I am not as joyful as I usually am. I’m sharing this with you not so you can feel sorry for me or try to help me cheer up or anything like that. I just want you to know that sometimes, even pastors, have funks…

Even during Advent and Christmas.

So for me, the fact that we are in the Gospel of Mark is perfect.
Why? What do I mean, we are in the Gospel of Mark?

Each year on the first Sunday of Advent our Gospel readings change. All last year we were in the Gospel of Matthew. This year we will be reading from the Gospel of Mark. Expect that we won’t.
Now here is the thing, we will heard the Gospel of Mark read last Sunday on Advent 1 and today on Advent 2 but we will not read from it again until January 11, which is the Sunday we observe and remember the baptism of Jesus.
We will read from Matthew, Luke and John but not Mark.

So what you say. We don’t really care which scripture is read, just so something is read that is biblical.

Well, I want to tell you that you should care. Or at least pay close attention.
Mark will not be read from again throughout December, for a very good reason.
I went into this detail to get to a point. Here is the point:

There is NO nativity story in the Gospel of Mark. No baby in a manger. No angels singing Halleluiahs. No shepherds coming in from the fields. No wise-men traveling from distant lands. Not a star. Not a stable. Not even Bethlehem. EVER. Throughout the whole of the Gospel.

It is as if Christmas doesn’t exist in Mark.

So now I want you to imagine something: Imagine what this sanctuary would look like without a baby in a manger, wise-men traveling from the East with gifts  (or in our case the narthex), without angels, or shepherds or Mary and Joseph…

Imagine what it would be like to celebrate Jesus without Christmas.

Imagine what it would be like to celebrate Jesus without Christmas.
Not Christmas without Jesus, but Jesus without Christmas.

I like that we left ornaments off the sanctuary tree. I think maybe this will become our tradition in the years we read Mark. Because all there is in the Gospel of Mark is a light, shining in the darkness.

The Gospel of Mark begins:
The beginning of the good news…
The beginning of the good news that the prophets are coming to fulfillment.
The beginning of the good news that God is coming to us.
The beginning of the good news that truly there is comfort for our people.
But the good news is not joy to the world, the lord is come.

The Advent hymn for Mark would be more along the lines of a Neal and Leandra Song that I would like to play for you now:
When I first heard this song it was on the Morning Program, I literally pulled over my car to hear this song. I called my friend Donna and told her about it.
It pierced my heart.

This is the actual program I was listening to when I first heard this song. This song is on the excellent album Angels and Fools. Available here: http://nealandleandra.myshopify.com/collections/mp3-and-cd-albums/products/neal-leandra-angels-and-fools-a-christmas-collection-volume-2

The good news of Mark is not the birth of a baby but the foolishness of God come to us. The emphasis in the book of Mark is on the progression of events in Jesus’ life that will lead to his death.
Mark’s Gospel could be called: The Guide to getting yourself Crucified.

As you are putting your baby in mangers this Advent season, remember what a foolish act this was. God come to us. The prophets fulfilled. Righteousness and Truth will kiss. And we will learn that the way to be free is to fight for the chance to be last. But we will also learn that we will put to death such goodness.

The child light is shining, not with tinsel or ornaments or reflected glory, but with a steady light of love, of justice, of comfort for God’s people. We just have to imagine it. And live it. And believe it, even when you feel as if you can’t.