Monday, December 19, 2005

Children's Sermon Advent 4 - Year B

After waiting in the cafeteria line at lunch Hannah found a seat across from Lydia, the girl who lived down the street from her.

Lydia fumbled through her backpack then pulled out a chocolate bar.

“A girl after my own heart,” said Hannah, “eating dessert first.”

“This isn’t my dessert,” replied Lydia, “This is my lunch.”

“What do you mean it’s your lunch? Where’s your sandwich?”

Lydia looked away and took another bite of her chocolate bar.

Hannah opened her brown bag lunch. There was a ham sandwich, a juice-box, a banana, and a granola bar. She looked in her bag then looked at Lydia.

“Here, have this,” said Hannah, handing Lydia her sandwich, juice-box, and granola bar. She kept the banana.

Lydia didn’t say anything.

“Don’t you want them?” Hannah asked.

Lydia still didn’t say anything.

“Well, here they are if you want the,” said Hannah getting up from the table and leaving the sandwich, juice-box, and granola bar on the table.

A minute later, Hannah stuck her head back in the cafeteria and watched as Lydia took huge bites out the sandwich Hannah left on the table.

That night when she came home from school, Hannah opened the fridge and pulled out some leftover ham, lettuce and tomatoes, mustard, mayo, and bread. And started making herself a triple-decker super-duper, skyscraper sandwich.

As she was assembling the second layer, her mom came into the kitchen.

“Wow! That’s a big sandwich for a growing girl,” said her mom.

“I’m hungry,” replied Hannah.

“Apparently,” replied her mom. “I guess we have to pack you more food for lunch.”

“I gave my lunch to Lydia.”

“Who’s Lydia? And why’d you give away your lunch?” asked her mom.

“Lydia’s a girl in my class. She only had a chocolate bar for lunch so I gave her mine.”

“Boy, that’s generous,” said her mom. “That’s sounds a lot like the story of Mary, Jesus’ mother.”

“How?” asked Hannah.

“God gave her a wonderful gift. The angel Gabriel told her that she would be Jesus’ mother.”

“But what did Mary do to get that kind of a gift?” asked Hannah

“Mary didn’t do anything to deserve it,” replied her mom. “All she did was open her arms to receive the gift of the Christ child. But what I think is even more amazing is that we all can be like Mary. We all carry Christ’s Spirit within us, and when we show love like Jesus did, and you did with that girl at school, Jesus is born again in the world.”

“H’uh?” asked Hannah.

“It’s just another way of saying that we all can share God’s love with everyone who needs it. Where love is, so is Jesus.”

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God, please love the world through us. Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Advent 4 - Year B

She lumbered out of bed to wash her face and splashed water on her forehead, already hot from the early morning sun. She waddled over to the bed and eased herself back down. Soon she was supposed to go on a journey, yet she was as big as a house.

Staring at the ceiling, Mary concentrated on her breathing. The baby inside kicked. With sweat trickling into her ears, she wondered how long ‘til she’d have to get up – and get moving. She lay there, studying the cracks in the ceiling.

She was pregnant without a father. An angel had told her that her baby would be of the ancient throne of King David. Knowing how crazy that sounded, she thought, at first, that she might want to keep that information to herself. She was a nobody living in the middle of nowhere. Telling Joseph was one thing. Telling her neighbours quite another.

The angel said that Mary found favour with God. There were days when Mary wasn’t so sure about that. She endured the stares, heard the whispers, and suffered the phony smiles floating on the surface of smoldering condemnation. Just another pregnant teenager who couldn’t control herself. Precisely what the world needed: another single mom with no way to support her child. Even though she knew she didn’t do anything wrong, there were times when their shame-filled stares made her feel dirty.

Of course, Joseph got off easy. People just assumed that he was innocent. When a young woman got pregnant it was always assumed SHE did something wrong. Never the man. If Joseph decided to pick up his stuff and go, no one would blame him. After all, who would want to take care of a baby that wasn’t his?

But Joseph was made of better stuff. And Mary knew it. And was grateful.

But still, she was a poor girl in a small village carrying the very power of God in her belly. How could she tell anyone that?

It was like God was telling a joke; God’s cosmic sense of humour exerting itself again. When God wanted a family to work with, God chose two nonagenarian, homeless, sheep herders named Abraham and Sarah. When God wanted a nation, God chose an enslaved people who were mad at God. When God wanted a king, the people chose a second rate football player named Saul, with more brawn than brain. But God chose a small shepherd-boy named David, the kid who used to deliver brown-bag lunches for his brothers.

So, somehow, the offspring of heaven, growing in a pregnant teenager’s belly made strange sense.

Like every other poor family, she hungered for the Messiah’s coming. Someday, there’d be justice. Someday, there’d be enough food for everyone to eat. Someday, they would live their lives free from tyranny.


She remembered Hannah’s song, the song about the well-heeled looking at each other trying to get used to hunger pains after the heartburn from their full-bodied food. The powerful would line up to take orders from those they previously ignored.

The song sounded so outrageous that Mary laughed out loud and sang her own words to the familiar song, “My soul magnifies the Lord”

Mary hauled water from the well, panting with exertion. When she looked down, she couldn’t see her feet for her belly. “The rich are fat, the poor have babies,” she said as she rubbed her belly. She was poor and pregnant, like all her friends. But she was called “blessed”, favoured among women. And she hadn’t done anything to deserve this. It just happened.

It was like how her song said God would act. God looks with favour at her, God’s servant! God gives mercy to whomever God wants. God shows strength, God scatters the proud. God cancels worldly powers and gives them to the lowly. God feeds the hungry and not the rich. God chooses to be faithful. Where we fail, God lovingly steps in.

That’s just it. Mary winced as she raised the water jar to her head and started back on the dusty road. God acts when and where God feels like it. God says that we can act as well, we can act with God – do justice, feed the hungry, comfort the suffering, tell stories of faith, pray, remember God’s promises. And that way, we’ll have a chance to praise and celebrate all that God is doing. Magnify the Lord, rejoice in God our saviour. Make up songs and have a good time singing them. But whether we will or whether we won’t, God will still act.

“I didn’t choose this pregnancy,” Mary smiled to herself, wiping her sweat-soaked brow. “God acts whether or not I give God permission.” She couldn’t quite imagine it…the Holy Presence knocking at her door, glowing celestial glory. “Uh…Mary?…Mary, I…um….was wondering…well…I really wanted to ask you…that is, I would like you to…give birth…that is, be pregnant….you know…have a baby…uh, the Messiah?”

But Mary could be part of this in ways that were more fun than just hanging out and watching. Caring for her baby was part of God’s work in the world; her prayers, her participation in her faith community, sharing her food with neighbours who didn’t have any. She liked her song. Catchy tune, good lyrics. God seemed happy to let her enjoy this – wanting to share this whole experience with them.

God’s acting meant she didn’t have to make the huge decisions. God had already made some tough choices – for justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, faith. God’s acting gave her freedom. The freedom to be an explorer, the freedom to be a participant in what God is already doing, the freedom to share herself with God’s world.

And Mary wondered if that was the gift that she was carrying in her womb. The world needed that freedom, the freedom from knowing that we have received mercy, compassion, forgiveness; the freedom from seeing justice alive in an unjust world, and the freedom of faith bringing healing and comfort to broken people.

Humming her song, Mary shuffled on towards home.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Advent 2 - Y ear B

Mark begins his gospel in an artless, matter-of-fact sort of way. It’s as if he has something to get off his chest and doesn’t have time for pleasantries. No genealogies. No pregnant octogenarians. No babies born in barns. Nothing. Just “boom!” we’re in the middle of an on-going story.

Right out of the gate jumps John the Baptist. Part wild man, part TV preacher. Don’t get too close, he can smell your fear.

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” he roars. His camel-hair shirt battered by the wind and his beard dusty from a lifetime spent spitting out sand in the desert. He speaks with an authority that isn’t his own. His breath is aflame with words that burn. “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

People had to travel pretty far to hear these words. The Jordan River wasn’t exactly on a main street with good traffic flow. I guess John missed the book on how to amass a crowd: near a McDonalds, on a corner, with a stop sign in front.

Not that John needed a plan. The people kept coming. Their ears were hungry for a true word from God. Not the faith of the temple that came filtered through the official Roman creed of fidelity to Caesar first.

No, they were looking for meat on those bones; something with substance. People put up with the blisters and they stubbed their feet on the rocks because they craved God’s presence in their lives - to give them the freedom they dreamt of each night. And John didn’t disappoint.

He even looked the part. His clothes ragged and his voice hoarse. He ate only what he could find out there in the desert and a not drop of wine ever touched his lips. Only water for this prophet. His words were so sharp and so true that they cut deep wounds in people’s self-delusions. He spoke truth to power. John had no loyalty to anyone other than God and had no trade other than proclaiming God’s message. John lived the freedom people craved.

And people came. Crowds flocked to hear this strange man shouting hard words of repentance. People who had been kicked out of the temple for failing. Failing at religion. Failing in their job. Failing at life. A lot of these folks weren’t part of what you would call the comfortable middle-class. And to be honest, if you saw one of them walking toward you downtown you’d probably cross the street and walk on the other side.

But even if you tried to avoid this odd man, you couldn’t escape his voice.

Even when you’re in the city doing nothing but minding your own business you might hear his echoing voice booming from the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make the Lord’s path straight.”

“Where have I heard that before?” you ask yourself. Then you remember bible class, “O yeah, that’s the prophet Isaiah. Must be some crazy bible-thumper.”

But something catches your attention. Like a car wreck you can’t turn your eyes away from him. You want to know what is about this guy that so many people traveled so far to hear.

It’s when you push your way through the crowds that you know why so many have beaten you here. This guy knows you. I mean he REALLY knows you. He hasn’t met you before and doesn’t know your name but he has you all figured out.

He knows what hides in the secret chambers of your heart. He knows what you do when nobody’s looking.

He knows your shame and he knows your pain. He knows all that stuff you’d rather keep quiet and hidden. He can see it in your eyes. He can see in the way you keep staring at the ground while he’s preaching. He can see it in the way you walk. With your phony self-assured strut or with your hunched back, stooped from being beaten down by the world. He knows the secrets you harbour.

He knows your failings. He knows your broken places. He knows those moments of weakness that, if ever came to light, your life would end.

He knows about your cancer. Your failed marriage. The feeling that life is passing you by.

He knows how your dad smacked you around when he was drunk, and now you’re afraid that you’ll do the same to your kids.

He knows how you just can’t let go of that lifetime of resentment.

He knows that some days you feel so lost and purposeless that you wonder if life is worth living.

Yes. He knows ALL of this. That’s why he’s so loved and so feared. But when he looks at you and excavates the buried hurts that lie in deepest alcove of your soul, his eyes soften and he pleads with you, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his path straight.”

But, instead of scolding you for your moral failings, or telling you to stop blaming others for your troubles, he leads you to the shore of the Jordan River and reminds you that when the people of God were liberated from their slavery in Egypt, they crossed the Jordan which led to the Promised Land.

Then, looking so deeply into your eyes that you’re afraid you’ll melt, he opens his arms and says, “Enter the water of freedom. God is giving you a fresh start. It’s time for you to start over.”

The Baptist was giving out second chances. That’s the gift we are given each and every day when we remember the gift of our own baptism. The gift of starting over. The gift of a new beginning.