Nov. 28, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and redeem us for your life of justice, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 25:1-10

1To | you, O Lord,
  I lift | up my soul.
2My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be | put to shame,
  nor let my enemies triumph | over me.
3Let none who look to you be | put to shame;
  rather let those be put to shame | who are treacherous.
4Show me your | ways, O Lord,
  and teach | me your paths. 
5Lead me in your | truth and teach me,
  for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all | the day long.
6Remember, O Lord, your compas- | sion and love,
  for they are from | everlasting. 
7Remember not the sins of my youth and | my transgressions;
  remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your good- | ness, O Lord.
8You are gracious and up- | right, O Lord;
  therefore you teach sinners | in your way.
9You lead the low- | ly in justice
  and teach the low- | ly your way.
10All your paths, O Lord, are steadfast | love and faithfulness
  to those who keep your covenant and your | testimonies.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
  11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Luke 21:25-36

[Jesus said:] 25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
  29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
  34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Advent is one of the favored seasons of the year. The bright blue, the music, the evergreen wreath, and the themes of anticipation and hope make for a great season. The overarching theme of hope is one of the primary reasons it is so fulfilling to work alongside a church like ours–to speak and live a Word of hope.

And yet, for all the delights of the Advent Season, the first Sunday of Advent could be a curious day to visit a church for the first time. After a year of natural disasters up the mountains and across the globe and distress among nations, a visitor could think, how is this book, the Bible, describing the current situation? Sometimes it feels as if the world is crashing down, and this scripture passage seems accurately descriptive. A response could either be “no thank you” or “has the world felt this way before?”

The refrain in our text from Luke’s gospel is the coming of the Son of Man. Beyond the end of time (the end of my time and the end of the whole world’s time) stands the Lord, who has come among us in the person of Jesus. Those whose lives are lived under Jesus’ Lordship can live expectantly. You can fill each day with activity that is meaningful. Why? Because you are contributing to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for human life. 

But there is more. The end of time and the end of your life holds no terror for those who know God’s love. We do not know the reality that lies beyond what we can know here today. But we do know the one, God, who determines the reality that lies beyond what we can know here and now.  That is the only way we can follow the imperative in v. 28 and stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. 

There were years when I stood in the pulpit and had to remind people or illustrate what might cause hopelessness, exhaustion, torment, all the things that might make a person looking for someone or something outside him or herself who could change the world, who could give hope. This year is different. 

We, who are gathered here in Nampa on the Sunday after Thanksgiving may not be under the power of the Roman Empire like Luke’s early readers. We may know that people in other parts of the world face more challenges than us. But we are all tired. It’s more than tired. It’s a social weariness the likes of which I have not experienced in my time as a pastor. It is paired with lots of grief, which adds to the weariness. And, if we are honest, we cannot see exactly where we are going. One writer (Beaumont) has described this time as one in which we have left one side of the canyon and we are on a bridge, one of those wooden plank bridges. And God is building the bridge as we walk along. But we cannot see the other side yet. 

So, it should be very good news to hear that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Some things are steady, even when it feels like so much is uncertain. God’s faithfulness is steadfast. That’s what grounds us.

Maybe because we planted two new trees this year at Trinity, I found myself drawn to Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in a new way. Having grown up in the Black Hills surrounded by Ponderosa Pines, I did not have deciduous trees to look at daily. But up on the hill above the house I grew up, tucked behind my favorite rock formation, was a grove of Mountain Aspens. I knew spring had come to the Hills when they started to bud. There might still be a snowfall, but every year, spring came when the green came out of those branches.

That Jesus talks about a fig tree would have been significant to his audience. The fig tree is often used as a metaphor for the peace and prosperity of Israel in the Old Testament. When God promises to bring the people into a land of milk and honey, the land includes fig trees (Deut. 8:8).  In Micah we read, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees.” 

In other words, the fig tree is no stray detail in this morning’s passage. It would be as if someone writing a short story, casually dropped in a reference to an olive branch and a cornucopia. We would know that peace and abundance were behind the images.  

Jesus says to his followers, “So also, when you see these things taking place [the leaves on the fig tree sprouting], you know that the kingdom of God is near.” And we, along with those disciples, connect abundance and peace among and within nations with the kingdom of God. 

These verses today provide encouragement when the very foundation of life seems to be shaken. What do you do when others grow faint “from fear and foreboding” and “the powers of the heavens” are shaken? These descriptions can easily evoke the distress that we feel during anxious, trying, and dangerous experiences in life. What gives you direction when earthquakes occur, loves ones are in harm’s way, your own livelihood is jeopardized, and the future is grim? 

Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man. We can hear assurance that in the worst of times the Son of Man is at hand, coming “with power and glory.” The message is ultimately one of hope, “your redemption is drawing near.” God’s Word will never pass away. God is present.

The other side of this is a bit more instructional. The other side of the assurance is the instruction not to debase life through overindulgence or worry but to pray. That is part of how we actual depend on God for strength to meet life’s challenges.

What might we pray this Advent? How might we voice our dependence on God as everything accelerates in our culture toward the end of December? One suggestion is to use the tool so many of us depend on, whether we like or not: our smart phones. 

As you scroll through text messages, take a breath, and lift up in prayer to God the names attached to your messages.  Look at your last 5-10 photos and pray for the people or places captured. I am an advocate of not constantly checking the news on your phone, but if that’s where you get your news, take a pause with several headlines and pray for God’s kingdom to come.

Another option, the words of our psalm for today could be adopted by one and all during this season of hope and waiting, “Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” That is a pretty great mantra, to be repeated at the dinner table or while driving or even brushing your teeth: “Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth.” 

A word of warning, be careful to not sentimentalize this prayer. You might get a jolt. God’s truth and God’s ways may not be what we want to hear. They might be far different than the course we had charted. Furthermore, trusting God’s revelation, trusting that God will reveal the truth to us takes some intentionality and practice. 

Fortunately for us, it does not take brilliance or superpowers or perfection. For our reassurance that God will speak to any and everyone, we only have to remember the cast of characters we will be reintroduced to in the month ahead: John the Baptizer, Elizabeth and Zacharia, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds watching their flocks. They all had very different roles to play, but they all could have prayed, “Make me know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth.” 

Prayers of Intercession

In this season of watching and waiting, let us pray for all people and places that yearn for God’s presence.

A brief silence.God of presence and peace, strengthen your church around the globe to proclaim the message of your love coming to the world. Open our hearts to recognize your face in all people and in all of creation. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of mighty redwoods and microscopic plants, fields and city parks, the wind and the waves, be a healing balm to our wounded planet. May we nurture what you have lovingly created. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of equity and compassion, bring righteousness and goodness to all peoples of the earth. Give a heart of discernment and integrity to leaders in our communities (local, state, and national government officials may be named). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of comfort and care, be present with those who watch and wait. Come to all who await births, deaths, divorces, new unions, new jobs, retirements, healing, and life transitions of every kind (especially). Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of promises kept and new dreams awakened, shelter your people from destructive storms. We pray for those whose lives have been upended by natural disasters (especially), for the work of Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran World Relief, and other relief organizations. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of companionship and community, we give you thanks for the saints who journeyed with us and now abide in you. Even in distress and uncertainty, make us confident that your promises endure forever. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

God of new life, you come among us in the places we least expect. Receive these prayers and those of our hearts, in the name of Jesus.Amen.

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