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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  • Courageous Ministry

    Dear Friends,

    I hope this month’s edition of the Pulse finds you and your loved ones navigating life and faith with as much grace and self-compassion as possible. I know that some in our community have welcomed summer as a time to travel with family and friends, and to be reunited with loved ones. Others continue to struggle with health issues, isolation, and anxiety about the resurgence of Covid with the Delta variant. In the immortal words of Paul to the Romans, as a community, we “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There is a chair or pew here on Sunday mornings for people in all seasons of life, and an open door to my office for any burdens (or celebrations) to be shared. I hope that you will join us or tune in via livestream on August 8th when I incorporate a compassion ritual in our worship services, to mark the lingering impact of Covid on the lives of God’s people everywhere. 

    Whether you have been in Bruner Hall often this summer, or it has been some time since you’ve walked through the doors of FPC, I want to share with you some happenings that I celebrate as we continue to serve faithfully as an inclusive community of faith and compassion at FPC Logan. Since the beginning of Pastor Derek’s sabbatical on June 1st, we welcomed four guest preachers who shared the Good News with us, from Scriptures ranging from Genesis to the Gospels, from Ezekiel to Ephesians. Two of these preachers are women who I’ve had the privilege of mentoring as ministers in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church in Utah. At summer’s end, we will welcome two additional preachers to share in our worship life, and I will conclude my ongoing spiritual disciplines sermon series later this month. 

    This summer, FPC has been home to Loaves & Fishes and a series of Red Cross Blood Drives. In June, our middle schoolers organized and delivered a supplies drive for Cache Humane Society, with two middle schoolers traveling to American Fork Canyon for a reservoir clean-up with presbytery peers. Eight high schoolers from FPC Logan traveled with me to Denver, where we served with Habitat for Humanity for four days, offering a total of 22 hours of service each. In two weeks, we will gather at Stokes Nature Center for earth care efforts. The Mission Committee is gearing up to prepare us for another Mission Sunday at FPC this fall. I learned that just this week, the Sew n’ Sews prepared a large shipment of homemade sanitary pads to benefit our neighbors in Ethiopia. Beth MacDonald and Barbara Troisi have been busy processing Deacon’s Fund applications to provide for the safety and welfare of neighbors here in Cache Valley. Barbara and Dorothy Jones visited our neighbors at Williamsburg with Cache Ministries in early July. Truly, there is no summer break in the ministry of FPC Logan! 

    In their meetings in June and July, your session has thoughtfully and prayerfully navigated decisions about worship safety precautions, knowing that there is no “right answer” about how to be the Church in a pandemic. Even among our Presbyterian churches in Utah, there is no uniform approach to worship in these strange days. We are discerning together, and the updated policy you received this week is the session’s most current discernment of how FPC Logan can be both a welcoming and safe house of worship for every beloved child of God, from the under 12 to the most senior among us. In electing the elders to serve on session, you covenant to pray for them and to abide by their decision-making. I hope and pray that you will continue to do both in the coming days and weeks.  

    Earlier this week, acknowledging the presence and concern of the Delta variant, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, challenged us, the people of the Church, to “wait on the Lord and be of good courage.” Courage has many faces in Scripture and in our society today, but I am drawn to this Sunday’s passage from John in which the crowd went looking for Jesus. When they find him, Jesus instructs them to work for the food that endures for eternal life and reminds them that he is the bread of life. As we take up the charge to be of good courage, I hope that together, as a church community, we will be on the lookout for Jesus, the bread of life. I expect him to surprise us and challenge us, as he always does with his faithful followers in Scripture, the disciples and friends who want to do as Jesus does in the world. You will find him here at FPC Logan, whether we worship in Bruner or the Sanctuary, with or without masks, and you will find him in the community to which we are called as partners in ministry. Come and behold that God is doing a new thing in this place, if we only have the courage to answer the call, to work for the food that endures, and to fix our sight on Jesus, the bread of life. 

    In Christ’s promises,

    Pastor Meg

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