Sermon Preached the Second Sunday in Advent, December 5, 2010
Texts: Matthew 3:1-12
Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion have the Emerald City in their sights, just across a field of flowers. Unfortunately, the flowers put Toto, the Lion and Dorothy to sleep. A spell cast by the Wicked Witch of the West. To the rescue comes the good witch of the North – she causes a refreshing snow to fall. Upon waking, the Lion, in only the way he can, utters one of the classic lines of the film “The Wizard of Oz: “Unusual weather we’re having, ain’t it?” This time of year, it becomes a little more difficult for us to consider snow as refreshing because snow is anything but unusual for us.
Unusual weather we’re having, ain’t it? Last Sunday I said that a part of waiting for God was being ready for the unexpected. Waiting for God also has something to do with being open to the unusual. God seems to take delight in the unusual. We might say God takes a certain peculiar delight in it. In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea…. Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. John is an unusual figure, peculiar, odd. Yet God uses John to get us to Jesus. John has an essential role to play in the good news of God’s love come near in Jesus. God seems to take peculiar delight in the unusual, the odd. John is not alone in this regard. He stands in a long line of Hebrew prophets. Hosea took Gomer, a harlot, for his wife. Unusual. Isaiah walks around naked for three years to teach and preach (Isaiah). Makes the whole camel’s hair and leather belt thing seem more sane. Odd, isn’t it.
Last summer, at our Annual Conference session, our Bishop, Sally Dyck said that as Christians we are “awed” and “odd.” “Odd means that our worldview is shaped by Jesus. But for some reason as Christians in our American culture, we have lost that sense of being odd—being salt and light and yeast—in the world. We’ve lost pride in being different, being odd, being counter-cultural in the way Jesus has called us to be.”
Waiting for God. Willing to be odd. Open to the unusual. Last Sunday evening, some of us gathered together to watch the film, “Amazing Grace.” It is the story of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a person of deep faith who dedicated himself to the abolition of the British slave trade. There is this wonderful scene in the movie which, in compact fashion, depicts a deepening of Wilberforce’s faith. A household servant finds Wilberforce lying in the grass. “I’ve been even more strange than usual lately, haven’t I?…. “It’s God.” “You’ve found God sir?” “I think he found me. Do you have any idea how inconvenient that is, how idiotic that will sound?” God seems to have a fondness for the peculiar, the odd, the unusual.
Wilberforce, with a bright career in politics contemplates a life of solitude and prayer, but a group of people thinks perhaps he has another calling. Presented with some of the heinous facts of the British slave trade – the chains, the cramped quarters on slave ships (4 ft x 18 in), the branding of human beings as property, the question of his future is posed to him. “We understand you’re having problems choosing whether to do the work of God or the work of a political activist.” “We humbly suggest that you can do both.” Both – how peculiar, but Wilberforce’s tireless work over many years led to the elimination of the slave trade in the British colonies.
In Acts 10, Peter is confronted with a dilemma. Can God be at work in the life of a Gentile? He dreams a peculiar dream about all kinds of animals, animals unclean to him, are lowered on a giant sheet and he is told to kill and eat. Unusual, odd, peculiar – but it is clear in the story that this dream is God’s way of getting him ready to see that God can be found in unusual places, in unusual people. The authors of the study book on Acts we are using write this: “Peter… finds himself led where he has not thought or chosen to go” (Robinson and Wall, Called To Be Church, 162).
Waiting for God, open to the unusual. I think about my own life, sometimes, the places I have gone trying to be a follower of Jesus, trying to let my life be carried on the winds of the Spirit. Over the years I have spent five weeks of my life in a little town in Texas – Robstown – a predominantly Hispanic community outside of Corpus Christi, with a small impoverished African-American population. Not all that exotic, I know, but not the place I ever imagined when I was growing up in Lester Park. I have spent time on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Earlier this fall, while at a denominational meeting in Nashville, a couple of the people I serve on a committee with wanted to experience a bit of the Nashville music scene. So there we were, a Russian, a German, an Alaskan and a Minnesotan walking into a honky tonk – ain’t that peculiar.
I think about the peculiar resources that have strengthened my faith. Growing up in Lester Park United Methodist Church, who would have ever thought that Buddhist texts or psychoanalytic writings would have helped me grow in my faith in Jesus Christ? How odd, yet they have.
Waiting for God. God offers creative influence in every moment of our lives. God is always seeking to persuade us in the direction of our good and the good of the world. God responds to human action. Yet in God’s responsive love, perhaps God also paints with broad brush strokes, and waiting for God can mean waiting for that bigger picture to become clearer as God continues to work in our lives in response to all that is going on in the world. If we are to detect those patterns for our lives, we need to be open to the unusual, the peculiar, the odd. To follow God in Jesus Christ is to be open to being odd in a world often at odds with God’s purposes.
In a world that often encourages us to say “me, me, me” we often ask about “we.” Ain’t that peculiar?
In a world where Sunday is often no different from any other day – working, shopping, busyness, we still gather, taking time from a busy world to slow down, to worship. Ain’t that peculiar?
In a world good at putting up barriers, erecting walls between people, we follow a Jesus who breaks down dividing walls and works against hostility (Ephesians 2:14). Ain’t that peculiar?
In a world that often wants faith to be purely private, we seek to live a life of faith that says we can praise God and work to change the world. Ain’t that peculiar?
So where might God be leading us next? What peculiar places are we headed for? What unusual resources will we find strengthening our faith? What odd people will God bring our way so we can be God’s odd people ourselves? What kind of people even ask such questions? Ain’t that peculiar?
Unusual people, ain’t we? Ain’t we peculiar!