Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

[A variety of tools, power and otherwise, are placed in the middle of the chancel area]

Warning, Friends, these are things you want me to stay away from, especially the ones that have sharp edges and that you plug in. These do happen to be from the Heins’ family tool chest, and well, most of them haven’t seen the light of day for a long time. Home maintenance: not exactly my forté.

But the reason that I bring them here for you to see this morning is because tools are what this text from Isaiah is about. It is about building, and rebuilding.

First off, this is one of those texts. Though we encounter the divine over and over again in Scripture, this is one set of verses that gives us deep insight into the very heart of God. It lets us peek behind the curtain to see what this mysterious God that we follow is all about. In this season of Advent, as we prepare ourselves for and eagerly await the coming of Jesus, God’s son, we can read this text if we want to know what this coming is all about, what lies at its heart. When Jesus himself tells everyone what his ministry is all about, in his first sermon in Luke’s gospel (his inaugural address, so to speak), he quotes these very verses from the prophet Isaiah. This is one of those texts.

These words from Isaiah are spoken to exiles who are returning home. In 578 BCE, Israel was overrun by the Babylonian Empire, and the cream of Israel’s society was carted off to far away Babylon where they spent 40 years or so weeping and wondering about why God did not save them. Eventually, God did deliver them and bring them home, but the home they return to is in ruins. As they gaze over the ruins of their once proud land, God sends these returning exiles this good news from Isaiah: it is time to rebuild, and I will be there to make it possible. It was a word for their day.

Much later, in Jesus’ day, in that foundational sermon in Luke’s gospel, Jesus looked at his church family (his hometown synagogue) and said (after he had read these verses of rebuilding from Isaiah), “Today, this scripture is fulfilled.” It was also a word for their day.

Now it is 2008, and the promise is not ended. It is not a thing of the past. As a living Word, these verses are spoken to us, who believe that Jesus did not only come 2000 years ago, he is coming today, in your life and in mine. As he has done in every day of every age, God is coming to our world, to the places of our ruin, and, he places tools in our hands.

“It is time to turn things around. This is the year of the Lord’s favor, when the injustices, and the hurts, and the listlessness, and the avoidance, and the sadness, when all these things that hold us captive are ended. I hate these things,” the Lord says. That little baby in a manger is coming and he will grow up, and he will wield a hammer the likes of which you have never seen. He will end up on a cross, and on that cross, the hold of evil on us is broken, and we are called to rebuild.

“They’ll rebuild the old ruins; raise a new city out of the wreckage. They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.” (Isaiah 61:4 MESSAGE)

God sent Jesus into the world not just to make us feel better. God didn’t send Jesus into the world just to save our spiritual souls so that when we die will go to heaven (don’t get me wrong, eternal life as in John 3:16 is central, but it is not the whole story). God sent his Son, the anointed one, the Messiah, to build, and to rebuild. Not only that, but God sent his Son to give us the tools and the anointing, and the strength, to rebuild our lives in the places and times when they fall into ruin.

The Season of Advent gives us the chance to pause and notice that there is ruin. Just look at the news. We are very much like the exiles who return to their home and see that the once grand structures, the once mighty walls, the once beautiful and bustling streets are not what they once were.

Advent too, gives us pause to examine our own lives–to look at the very personal parts of our lives where life and relationships, where disappointment, guilt and grief, where circumstances and challenges–have wreaked havoc.

When we see these areas of ruin in our lives and world, there are two very popular responses. One is that we run and hide from the ruins. We close off that area of town and we just simply pretend as if the ruins don’t exist. There’s no racism or sexism anymore. There is no prejudice any more. Rampant inequality? What inequality. We’ve all got an equal shot. We’re just one happy human family!

Rubble? What rubble? There’s no rubble in my life. {There it is, right there, don’t you see it?} See what? The pain. {The destruction. The powerlessness.} Oh that, Shhh! I don’t want anyone to know about that, let alone help. I just ignore it. It’s ok.

The second kind of response is to run and rebuild on our own. To grab whatever tools we have and just buck up–pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We are raised and trained to take care of things ourselves. We don’t need any help. We can draw up the plans, get the supplies, and organize the tools. We wake up early in the morning and get to work. When someone comes and asks if they can help, we look up with hammer in hand and smile, “Oh everything is fine. I’ve got it covered. No problem. I’ll have this built up in no time. No trouble at all really. Really.”

It’s Advent, my friends. Emmanuel, God with us, is coming. Jesus is coming not to simply help us feel better. He is not the kind to sit on the sideline simply cheering us on. He is coming to rebuild and renew. Jesus is coming with hammer, and saw, with pressure treated lumber, and he is coming with a plan.

[Blue Prints for the present construction and renovation are brought out]

When we see that areas of waste and ruin, we can despair, or we can ignore, or we can try to handle everything by ourselves, but Advent tells us that God has a plan–for you, for this church, for this community, and for this entire creation.

For tools we have prayer and Scripture, fellowship and faith, and (look around you) brother and sister; in these things Jesus stands right next to us, showing us where to clear away the rubble, and where to pile the lumber, and where to pour the concrete. And when we need it, he will place the hammer in our hand, and lift them up, and show us where to strike, and give us the strength to take the needed swings.

This morning we celebrate the wonderful sacrament of baptism. You may want to run when I pick up that circular saw over there, but come running when I grab this pitcher, because God is doing something wonderful, something miraculous. It has nothing to do with me; God is gently pouring love and grace into little Natalie and John [Coleman]. He is pouring enough to last a lifetime, an eternal lifetime.

But something even more is happening. God is promising that, as they grow, the Spirit will be with them, putting tools in their hands. As they grow stronger, the tools will become a little heavier and more complex. Right now a tape measure. Later, when they’re old enough, maybe that power drill over there, and so on and so forth. Each tool will match their unique set of gifts and circumstances. Today, God is claiming them as God’s own and declaring: here are my newest builders.

You all are promising making promises too, on behalf of the church universal. You are promising to be there to help them grow into master builders. For through Natalie and John, and you and me, God has plans for the world.

This is Advent hope. This is Advent faith. It leads, my brothers and sisters, to Advent joy. Amen.

December 14, 2008

Rev. Paul Heins

First Presbyterian Church

Logan, Utah

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  • Back to School, Not Back to Church…

    …at least not all the way. Some ministries of the church are in action, others are not.

    Ministry is Continuing!

    To date we have shared around $7,000 with our local community to help relieve those affected by coronavirus, and we have another $2,000 we will be distributing now. This has gone toward food, diapers for families in need, rent & mortgage relief, and other purposes.

    Thank you for continuing to worship with us—our YouTube videos get around a hundred views each week, and in some cases, there are multiple people watching one screen. Thank you for listening. And thank you for your continued financial support.

    We are going to be doing some new things in the interest of our own spiritual health, fellowship, and the ministry of the church. The first is drive-through communion (or drive-thru, as it is frequently written).

    Drive-Through Communion — Sept 6th, 9:15-9:45am

    If you wish, you’re invited to drive through our parking lot on Sunday, September 6th from 9:15-9:45am and I will serve communion to you. You are just as welcome to partake of communion from home, as we’ve done the last few months.

    Fellowship Bike Ride — Sept 13th, beginning at 1pm

    On Sunday, September 13th we will have an FPC Bike Ride. We will meet at FPC and go on a 10-mile bike ride led by John and Jean Stewart. Maps of the route will be provided, and a shorter route will be available if needed. Some of the route will be on streets and some on dedicated bike paths. Meet us in the parking lot at 1pm, and we will depart by 1:15.

    Zoom Bible Study — every Tuesday morning from 8-9am

    If you’d like to join us for Bible Study we will begin on Tuesday, Sept 8th, from 8-9am. We will meet via Zoom so you can enjoy breakfast and coffee from home. The zoom link will be available on our First Pres Logan Facebook page each Tuesday morning.

    My role as pastor is to be a spiritual guide, someone who helps each of you on your faith journey (and as you might imagine, you help me just as much). I confess to you that feeling like we are connected and in touch these months has been a struggle. Continuing to not meet in person remains one of the more challenging decisions of my career in ministry. I want to see all of you each week. Worshiping at home via YouTube is certainly just as pleasing to God as when we gather and sing, but it doesn’t feel the same to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel the same to you. Hopefully, some of the above activities will help us with that.

    In the Presbyterian system the pastor does not make decisions about all of the activities and happenings around a church. The pastor leads worship, teaches through Bible Study and similar endeavors, provides pastoral care, and participates in many other diverse activities around the church and community. We have Elders and Deacons who take on other responsibilities, including making decisions about church activities (reserved for Elders, who serve on Session). Who does what around a church (and how we do it) is outlined in the Book of Order, which covers all kinds of things. But as you can imagine, there isn’t a chapter titled What To Do in Case of Worldwide Pandemic.

    The Elders that we elect as a congregation (you elect them, Pastor Meg and I do not vote) make many important decisions for each congregation, although pastors frequently share their thoughts and offer guidance for any vote that is taken. The Session of FPC Logan met on Wednesday, August 19 and voted unanimously to continue with online worship for at least the next month (until the next Session meeting, on September 16th).  At that meeting we will reassess the situation and take another vote for the coming month (or months). Session made this decision because we don’t feel it is safe for us to be in the same room for an hour together. Some people may be willing to take the risk. I am not, and neither are your FPC Elders. Of particular interest is the effect that the return to school will have on coronavirus numbers. Public schools and the Utah State University are back in class now, with both online and in-person classes. Also, of great interest is progress in vaccine trials. We are praying that one (or several) of these vaccine trials provides good news in the next few months.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all,

    Derek

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