Advent Lament: What the Psalmist Knows

20 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

A sermon based on Psalm 89

My name is Lia, and I’m a church nerd. I love all things big and small about church, and I especially love the smells and bells that come with Advent. During Advent, we deck out the church, we hang Chrismons, wear our pretty purples, have the amazing smell of evergreens, and the sounds of uplifting music. I am such a nerd that I hum Advent tunes all season long, and resist the urge to sing Christmas carols. In fact, most of Advent you can find me singing, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

And usually I buy into the hype of Advent. The thought of waiting sits well with me. I believe that there is hope and expectation. That God is going to break into the world in this little bitty body of Jesus and he is going to grow into a man who is going to change everything.

But this year, I am having a hard time with that. This year, I’m having a hard time with the idea of God breaking into the world and bringing justice. This year, I’m having a hard time believing that things are going to get better. This year, I’m having a hard time with our Psalmist this morning, who said, “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance; they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness.” This year, I’m having a hard time with Mary’s words from the Magnificat, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

I’m having a hard time imagining God’s mighty hand when all I can see is Michael Brown’s hands up. I’m having a hard time hearing a festal shout over Eric Garner’s voice saying “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” I’m having a hard time picturing God’s strength over the vision of small children slain in Pakistan. I’m having a hard time seeing that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones when I hear the stories of my own country’s inhumanity and torture.

I’m having a hard time finding my “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

Maybe I’m not alone…I looked up the verses to O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Let’s remember the images there, of Israel being held captive and mourning in exile, of asking the Dayspring to cheer our spirits and disperse the gloomy clouds of night, of asking Wisdom to order all things, far and nigh, because clearly there’s disorder, and of begging the Desire of nations to bind all peoples in heart and mind and to bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease. And even though the song says, “Rejoice! Rejoice!” it’s not about what is. It is about what’s coming.

And even the Psalmist knows. Our reading today stops with verse 26. “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’” It’s a very positive reading we have here… extolling the amazing virtues of God and how God wins all the time.

But if we read on in our Psalm starting with verse 46 it says:

How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire?

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
    which by your faithfulness you swore to David?

Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted;
    how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
with which your enemies taunt, O Lord,
    with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.

See? The Psalmist knows. Even though God is awesome, life sometimes isn’t. And even though God is awesome, sometimes we don’t feel God’s presence. And even though God is awesome, we often are taunted here on earth.

Remember, that the Psalmist is is speaking as one who is taunted. But the Psalmist is also speaking of the other Servant. That man born, called Emmanuel, and named Jesus. He was taunted too. And he sometimes felt like God wasn’t there—when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He looked out into the crowd, put his hands up, said, “I can’t breathe,” experienced torture, and felt the pain of a death by violence.

And yet, through this Christ, the world was changed. God broke into the world in the body of a little bitty baby and the world was changed.

And in this season of expectation, this time of Advent, when we are waiting for justice to come, we look to that child. We look to that child to break in again, to bring about God’s justice. And to walk alongside us, while we get to work. Because we can no longer wait for justice to come. We must begin expecting it to be the norm, and standing up to require it be done. We must have hope that things will change, if we get to work changing them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

May we pray:

We come, celebrating Advent, God. Not rejoicing in what is, but rejoicing in what is to come. We pray that you accompany us as we work to bring justice to this world, to set things right, and we pray that we follow Christ’s example of loving that which seems unloveable. We know we are your hands and feet in the world, and that it is our work to make the world the way you want it to be. Where all are fed. Where all are freed. Where all are safe. And especially, where all are loved. In the matchless name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Instigate Good

17 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is “Instigate good.”

This morning is another difficult morning. The Today show aired from Pakistan–and (unnecessarily) showed the school where 142 people, most of them children, were killed yesterday. They showed vivid images, and it was no way to start the morning.

So what can we do to counteract such violence? In the absence of being able to do anything to help in Pakistan, what can we do to change things today?

We can instigate good. Do something, anything, good.

Seems like a small thing, but I like to buy the person-behind-me-in-the-coffee-line coffee in the morning. It helps. I smile at everyone. I say good morning. I donate some money to an org that someone else loves. It makes me feel better to just do something nice.

I know it doesn’t change anything. But it changes how I feel.

What Is The Thread?

16 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is a poem:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

And the question is, “What is the thread?”

I’m preaching at a noontime service at First Baptist Highland Avenue on Friday. My text is the 89th Psalm. In it, the Psalmist praises God’s unending love. Then asks the question, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” And I totally understand the Psalmist.

I am vacillating between the muck of life and the glory of life. Of course, God loves us and is with us forever. And sometimes God is hidden from us. And we go from one end of the spectrum (Yay!) to the other (Aww!) so quickly, it seems like there’s no in between.

But somehow, the thread is that I still believe. Even when I cannot find the good in the day, I still believe. Even when I cannot feel God’s presence, I still believe. Even when I am sad and hopeless, I still believe.

Help me, God, to not let go of the thread.

Thread

Rejoice!

15 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is “Rejoice!”

So here’s a little rejoicing:

I rejoice in dear friends who are doing important work in the world.

I rejoice in the fact that I have a little money to help friends.

I rejoice that a good friend is traveling–he deserves a great trip to France.

I rejoice in my new job, in how much I love these people, and how much fun they are.

I rejoice in my health, and in the health of those I love.

I rejoice that I am done coming up with things to rejoice about.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.”

Clean Out Your Closets?

13 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Closet

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is “Clean out your closets.”

Really?

All this really important, big things around the world, and someone thinks that I should clean out my closets? I mean, it’s a good idea to give away the things in your closet that you’re not wearing, pass them down the line. But today? When there’s real stuff going on?

Because there is real stuff going on.

Hello? Do you hear me? There’s real stuff going on!

There are people dying. There are people who are sad. There are people who have been injured. There are people who are trapped in their circumstances. There are people who are protesting in the streets in cities all over the United States–heck, all over the world! There are people who can’t afford to pay their electric bills. There are people who are hungry. There are people suffering from Ebola.

It’s just not right.

And you want me to clean out my closets.

Not only that, you want me to be happy about Advent and Christmas.

Not today, Lord. Not today.

Healing Spaces

12 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is “Healing spaces.”

I’ve just moved into a new apartment. It’s really cool, with 15 foot ceilings, white walls, concrete floors, and a great big window that faces south. It stays dark in the morning until about 7, and at about 3:30 in the afternoon, the sunshine can blind you. Everything that I cook smells the whole apartment, so there’s often the smell of chicken stock, onions and celery.

It’s warm. It’s inviting. I think it might be my happy place. But it’s not the space. It’s the heart.

It’s been a long time since home has been my happy place. It’s not that home has been an unhappy place, but I’ve been building happy places in other spaces.

What makes a space a healing space? Or a happy space? I think it’s the general feeling. The warmth. But especially, it’s the things you do there. It’s the fostering of friendships. The celebrating of rituals. The care of the soul (both our own and others).

Just this week, my church office moved, too. And as I’ve been decorating my office, I’ve been thinking those same things. What will make this space inviting? What will help people feel at home and comfortable (and yea, even comforted)? What will exude warmth and welcome?

But the larger question is this: What would make our worship space feel that way? How do we offer warmth, welcome, healing, and happiness in a space? How do we warm it up, spice it up, and make it feel just right?

Because it’s not the space. It’s the heart.

Be a Prophet?

11 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is “You don’t want to be a prophet, but be one anyway.”

Nah.

Nelson Mandela, prophet

Let me tell you a little bit about what they do to prophets. They push them out doors and over cliffs. They besmirch their names. They sit idly by while the prophets starve on hunger strikes. The lock them in prisons for 27 years. Nelson Mandela, prophetThey shoot them on the balcony of hotels. They shoot them while they’re giving Mass.

Ultimately, prophets die. And people go back to being just like they were.

But heck. This is the season of Advent. This is the time of hope. This is the era of expectation.

Maybe this week, I’ll be a prophet. Maybe I’ll go march in a protest and get arrested. Maybe I’ll preach the best sermon that will make people turn from their sin before Babylon takes us over. Maybe I’ll lay myself down chained to a tree to make the people turn from their busy-ness, and notice that something is wrong.

Or maybe I’ll go Christmas shopping.

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    Lia practices radical acceptance for those who the church has vilified and shamed. It's not just something she preaches, but something that she really tries to reflect in her life.

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