First Sunday of Advent + Sunday, December 3, 2017
Pastor Nathan Pipho + Trinity, Worcester, Massachusetts
[Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37]
In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
I would like to start this morning by referencing two events of this past week.
First … on Wednesday morning, minutes before he was to have gone onto the Today Show, and already in makeup and prepared to go onto the set …Matt Lauer was fired after 20 years of anchoring the Today Show after serious allegations of sexual misconduct. He joined a alarmingly growing list of men accused of similar sexual violations.
When I arrived in the office that morning, I looked again at the envelope that I had received just two days earlier. The 8 1/2 by 11 sized envelope came from the ELCA. Inside, was a Draft Social Statement on Women and Justice.
A letter explaining this Draft Social Statement on Women and Justice said this: This draft “represents the task force’s initial attempt to formulate a social statement, and it is intended to encourage deliberation on what this church should say about issues of sexism and patriarchy. The draft expresses the best thinking of the task force to date … The draft is available in print and on the web for discussion and response throughout the church.”
As a reminder, the ELCA issues Social Statements which are teaching documents on critical social issues. These documents are not doctrine, but they guide reflections on social issues from Lutheran and scriptural perspectives. Topics of previous social statements include (but are not limited to): abortion, care for Creation, the death penalty, human sexuality, and race/ethnicity/culture.
If you are interested in any of these social statements … type ELCA Social Statements into Google. The Draft Social Statement on Women and Justice can be found at: www.ELCA.org/womenandjustice
With these things in mind … we come to this morning’s scripture readings. I have to admit, that after preaching in November on readings that sounded much like the readings today … with their harsh sounding themes of the coming day of the Lord – a day of judgment and wrath …
I wanted some quiet and comforting readings of hope and peace. I wanted some scriptures to wrap around me, to wrap around us as a congregation, like a warm blanket …to accompany us into this holiday season.
Instead, what we have are readings that grab us by the shoulders, shake us, slap us in the face … and shout: WAKE UP!
In fact, the first reading from Isaiah – that is what Isaiah was doing to God. Wake up God! Where are you? God, don’t you see what’s going on? Get down here and help us!
And in the Gospel reading Jesus calls us to wake up … to wake up and recognize a period of suffering … of darkened sun and moon … and stars falling from heaven.
And it’s at this point that this morning’s scriptures – shaking us out of our comfort as they do – speak a powerfully timely word in stars falling from heaven – chillingly relevant as entertainment and movie stars fall from heavens of prestige, respect, and social standing.
I’m reminded of a sermon I heard in seminary … that judgment against one person … that one person or group of people being held accountable … can very much be another person’s – or another group’s – liberation.
Some have wondered, with all these accusations against men … is there a new “War on Men?”
Or, could it be, that what these accusations represent, is a new honesty about the many ways that for thousands of years there has been a “war on women?” That what we are experiencing today, is a breaking down of thousands of years of suffocating and pervasive patriarchy?
In light of today’s Gospel reading, could it be, that what’s happening … is that God’s reign is breaking in … that God’s reign is confronting systems of male privilege and power that have rewarded men, while at the same time exploiting, oppressing, marginalizing women?
And, church, if we’re honest with ourselves … we know that even here at Trinity, we have been both deeply shaped and influenced by, and scarred and wounded by, patriarchy and sexism. Male power and leadership has been privileged, while women’s power and leadership has been questioned and criticized.
And, as these accusations remind us … patriarchy doesn’t just benefit some men. Patriarchy benefits all men – conservative men and liberal men – heterosexual men and gay men.
Kevin Spacy, George Tikei, and the husband of Massachusetts State Senate President Stanley Rosenburg, all out gay men, are also among the accused of sexual misconduct.
Even gay men get wrapped up in a patriarchal system that gives permission to men in power to believe they can take what they want. That they can use their power – to enforce their will, whatever that will is, on others.
Could it be that in this rash of accusations and allegations and confessions … that God’s reign of healing is breaking in right now … shouting to men, to all of us men, TO WAKE UP!
MEN: YOU CAN’T JUST TAKE WHAT YOU WANT BECAUSE YOU WANT IT!
MEN: YOU DON’T DESERVE IT JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT IT!
MEN (and to all of us): TREAT PEOPLE RIGHT!
In the Gospel story with its suffering, darkness, and falling stars … Jesus referred to the fig tree as a sign of the coming kingdom. “Look to the fig tree,” Jesus said. “When its branches become tender, it puts forth leaves, which point to the coming of summer.
My favorite time to go home to Iowa is in the summer. It is then that everything is bursting out with life – crops in the field, flowers in the gardens, insects and animals warm sunshine and pleasant breezes. A season of life and growth.
In faith, we find hope in the signs of new life that God is working in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can see God in Jesus Christ delivering people from sin and announcing salvation here and now!
When I participated in this New England Synod’s Healing the Wounds of Racism community, I learned a new truth, I hadn’t thought about before. Racism wounds both people of color who are the victims … AND, white people are the perpetrators. All people are victimized by racism.
To stand against racism, to heal the wounds of racism … is to redeem ALL people … is to announce to all people, their worth and value in God’s sight.
The same is true with Patriarchy and sexism … these things do not just victimize women – they victimizes men as well! While the pain is greater among the women who are victims, by participating and benefiting from systems of patriarchy and sexism – men become less than the whole creatures God intends for us to be.
It is God’s desire and will, that men – all men – be men of honor and safety. God wants us to treat women with dignity and worth. God’s reign breaking down patriarchy and sexism – is deliverance of BOTH men and women … delivering women from men … and saving men from ourselves!
God’s reign is the new summer of healing and life breaking in.
In faith, standing on the foundation Paul proclaimed in the Second Reading today … we celebrate that BOTH women and men have been called into fellowship with Christ through the grace of God … in faith, we can receive this moment in history, as is every moment in history, an in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
Honest and open conversations with each other about the very real issues that face us as a society … and face us as a congregation … become the tender branches and new leaves announcing God’s reign of healing …
God does not desire that we remain comfortable and quiet if our comfort and silence causes, or perpetuates pain. God does not want issues swept under the rug if issues need to be brought to the light in order to end suffering and harm.
In faith, we can recognize that hard truths spoken in love, even though they may cause temporary pain and discomfort … can be received as the tender branches and new leaves announcing the coming of summer – the day of the Lord’s healing and hope.
And we can face these hard truths together, confident in the hope that the builders of this building engraved onto the outside wall above the entrance door … the words Jesus promised today … that the Word of the Lord endureth forever …
Even as we watch stars fall, or institutions fall, or countries fall … the reign of God in Christ Jesus, God’s Word of healing and salvation spoken to the world, endures through it all, forever.
It is that word – God’s word spoken in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – that leads us to the new dawn. That leads us through the labor pains and into new healing and hope. IT is that word spoken to BOTH women and men, on this day, in the waters of baptism and the bread and cup of blessing.
Together, as one fellowship in Christ … as one broken communion of saints in need of the salvation offered by Christ … let us awake to the new dawn of God’s work breaking in among us right now.
Thanks be to God! AMEN.