Thursday, December 31, 2015

God is in the House

Christmas Eve, Sermon preached December 24, 2015

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 2:1-20

            Christmas is messy.  Now, to be sure, we work hard to make it neat.  Company comes, guests arrive, and we work to make our homes look their best.  We don’t want our families to think we don’t keep house adequately.  Even so, there is a lot of messiness with Christmas.
            Tuesday I went home for lunch, and Julie and Sarah were baking.  I had a bit of a time trying to find some space to eat.  The results of the baking were wonderful, so no complaints here.  The end result was delicious, but the process was messy.
Think of what your house may look like tomorrow morning, or tonight, or earlier tonight – depending on when you open gifts.  That’s sort of one of those things couples have to negotiate, like whether the toilet paper roll goes over or under or whether you squeeze the tooth paste from the end or the middle.  My family was a strictly Christmas morning opening gifts family.  Julie’s was much more a Christmas Eve family.  We had to work that out in our relationship.  Anyway, whenever you open, it is a mess – paper and bows and ribbons all over the place.  Think of the messiness of the shopping, especially this year when slush and ice were everywhere.
            Then there is the messiness of Christmas in the Bible.  There is the messiness of birth, and the added messiness of a birth in a stable.  Then there is the messiness of the stories in the gospels.  Mark has no birth story at all.  Jesus just appears – “In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” (1:9).  Matthew and Luke each tell stories about Jesus’ birth, but the stories are different.  Both agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  Luke is the only one to mention a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the only one to include a manger, the only one to mention shepherds to whom angels speak.  Matthew has none of these.  Instead, Matthew has three wise men come from the East.  He has a worried King Herod.  He has Joseph, Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt before settling in Nazareth.
            Of course we often conflate the stories in our Christmas decorations and pageants. We try to make it nice and neat. Nativity sets don’t choose between Matthew and Luke.  We always see wise men or kings along with shepherds.  I mean what would a Christmas pageant be without young children in bath robes, either with crown on their heads – three kings, or towels on their heads – which is how we know they are the shepherds responsible for the sheep adorned with cotton balls?  We like to bring these stories together, to make it a little neater, though when it comes to pageants, they are rarely neat.  In one pageant, the inn keeper, when Joseph and Mary arrive looking for a room says, “You’re in luck, we’ve just had a cancellation.”  I’m not sure where the pageant went from there.
            John doesn’t tell a birth story at all but instead offers theologically imaginative images of what Jesus’ birth means.  The Gospel writer reflects on what it means that someone so filled with the light and love of God was born into this world, someone whose very being shone with God.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… full of grace and truth.  I love the way The Message renders part of this passage: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood….  Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
            In Jesus, God moved into the neighborhood.  In the Matthew and Luke stories, “neighbors” come and visit – wise men, shepherds, animals.  Yet, at the heart of their stories is this idea that in Jesus, God has moved into the neighborhood.  God has arrived into our world.  God has come close.
            When we think about the neighborhood God has moved into, there is messiness there, too.  This neighborhood, this world of ours, is not exactly Sesame Street or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  The neighborhood into which God has moved is pretty messy, pretty messed up in many ways.  This Christmas season I watched the video of John Lennon’s song, “Merry Xmas (War is Over).”  It is filled with scenes of children hungry, children suffering from the ravages of war.  It shows tanks and machine guns.  There are pictures of children soldiers.  This is our neighborhood.
            Simon and Garfunkel, in the late 1960s released a version of Silent Night in which they sang over the words from an evening news broadcast, August 3, 1966.  The news that night included a compromise on a civil rights bill, the original bill would have included a complete ban on housing discrimination of any kind, but that had no chance of passing.  Comedian Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose.  Martin Luther King, Jr. reaffirmed plans for a march for open housing in the Chicago suburb of Cicero despite local opposition.  A person was indicted for a mass killing spree.  A House Committee on “Un-American Activities” was holding hearings on opposition to the Vietnam War.  What might such a song sound like in 2015?  We could have stories about the threat of ISIS, about domestic terrorism, about the tensions between police and racial-ethnic communities, about on-going hatred and intolerance, about the rising income of St. Louis County while poverty also rises, about a heroin addict falling asleep in his vehicle and striking and killing a man on a sidewalk.  This is the neighborhood into which God has moved.
            To be sure, this is not all there is to the human neighborhood.  There is also beauty and wonder and mystery and kindness and love and compassion. Yet we sometimes wonder where the balance lies.  This messy world is the world into which God shows up, and keeps showing up, a place that leaves us sometimes scratching our heads wondering if we will ever overcome our difficulties, if we will ever make significant progress as a human community.  God shows up.  God comes into the neighborhood.  God is in the house.  And it matters.  It makes all the difference.
            In his wonderful book Who Needs God? Rabbi Harold Kushner ponders the difference God makes by asking what the world would be like without God.  Without God it would be a world where no one was outraged by crime or cruelty, and no one was inspired to put an end to them….  In a world without God, there would be no more inspiring goal for our lives than self-interest, amassing as many of the good things of life as we could grab.  There would be neither room nor reason for tenderness, generosity, helpfulness….  A world without God would be a world in which gravity pulled us down and there was no counterforce to lift us up, to cleanse us if we had sullied ourselves when we stumbled and fell, and assure us we were worthy of a second chance…. In a world without God, we would be all alone – no one to help us when we had to do something hard, no one to forgive us when we had disappointed ourselves, no one to replenish us when we had come to the point of using ourselves up, and no one to promise us that, even when it was over, it will not be over. (205-206)
            I would argue that Kushner’s words ring even truer in light of the story of Christmas.  It is a story not only about a God who exists, but of a God who moves into the neighborhood again and again and again, about a God who is always in the house.
            Because God shows up, we can show up.
            Because God is about peace and goodwill, endless peace, we can be about peace and goodwill.
            Because God loves, we can keep loving.
            God is in the house.  God moves into the neighborhood, even when the neighborhood seems at is messiest, its shabbiest, its most run down, its most broken.
            When I think about my favorite Christmas stories, they are really all stories about the difference it makes that God is in the house, that God moves into the neighborhood.
            I love the story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, the story where Jim and Della, a young married couple just making it day by day, and each decides to sell their most valuable possession – Jim his watch and Della her hair, to buy a Christmas gift for the other.  The author tells us that these are the wise ones, the magi.  The story of God in the neighborhood makes a difference.
            I love the Michael Lindvall story, “Christmas Baptism,” about a young eighteen year old, Tina, a single mom, who brings her baby to the church for baptism the Sunday before Christmas.  In that church family of the child would stand during the baptism, and Tina has only her mother Mildred to stand with her, until one of the elders of the church decides to stand for that baby too, then another member, then another and another until the whole congregation, weeping in compassion and joy, stands with that little child.  God is in the neighborhood with those people and it makes all the difference.
            I love “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where an angel intervenes to remind Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey that his life has really touched so many others.  Dreams have died along the way.  Life is difficult, but it is also wonderful because God is in the house.
            I love “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special”  - now marking its 50th anniversary, and when those 50th anniversaries roll around I can say I was there at the beginning - where a reading of the Christmas story from Luke helps Charlie Brown find something of the meaning of Christmas, particularly as his friends see the beauty in the scraggly tree Charlie picked out from the lot.  God moves into the neighborhood and it matters.
            Deeper than the sentimentality in these stories is the message that God shows up, that God moves into the neighborhood, that God is in the house and it matters.  It makes all the difference.  Rabbi Kushner puts it well.  God is found in the incredible resiliency of the human soul, in our willingness to love though we understand how vulnerable love makes us, in our determination to go on affirming the value of life even when events in the world teach us that life is cheap. (178)  The evening news reminds us how shabby the neighborhood can be, how broken, but Christmas reminds us that Silent Night still gets sung, and the music never stops.  Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister reminds us: Christmas, the celebration of the birth of a child, is about the fact that God’s presence is everywhere.  In the smallest things.  In the weakest things.  In the beginning of things.  And we are responsible for nurturing it. (Living Well)  Gee, a nun and a rabbi show up at a Methodist Christmas service!
            Where do you need God to show up in your life tonight?  Where is the neighborhood of your life most run down?  Where is your heart broken?  Trust that God is in the house, that God will come into the neighborhood again, and it will make a difference in your life.
            I know our world needs God to keep coming into the neighborhood.  Let God love you tonight and let God love the world through you.  Be the singing of Silent Night in the midst of the evening news.

            Tonight know that God is in the house.  Tonight know that God has again moved into the neighborhood – the neighborhood of your life, the neighborhood of this world.  This is the good news, good news for all people, good news of great joy.  Glory to God.  Alleluia.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuff Stuff

Sermon preached  December 20, 2015

Texts: Luke 1:39-55

            The Fabulous Thunderbirds, “Tuff Enough”
            Bob Dylan and the Band, “Tough Mama”
            I thought maybe you all needed a little break from Christmas music J.  The first song is a one-hit wonder from the 1980s – “Tuff Enough” by The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  The second song is done by Bob Dylan and the Band from an album called “Planet Waves.”  I initially got that album because of a mistake my sister made.  My sister was looking for a song called “Wedding Song” and this Bob Dylan album has “Wedding Song” on it, but she was looking for that really melodic Paul Stookey song – you know, “He is now to be among you, at the calling of your hearts.”  Bob Dylan’s “Wedding Song is quite different, and my sister never really developed a taste for Dylan’s music.  As I was discovering his music and finding it intriguing, she gladly sold me this album for a pittance.
            “Tuff Enough,”  “Tough Mama,” – “Tough,” not exactly a seasonal word, is it, except maybe for those who are culinarily challenged.  “My these mashed potatoes are tough!”
            Mary is at the center of today’s Scripture reading, and in the history of the church Mary, the mother of Jesus has been called many things, but tough mama is not one of them, though I think anyone who has ever been a mother knows that you have to have a certain toughness about you.  Mary may never have been called a tough mama, but the language she uses in her song is pretty tough.
            My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant….  The Mighty One has done great things….  God has shown great strength… scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  Tough stuff.
            This is the language of tough love.  Now I have some qualms about that phrase.  Sometimes in the way it gets used it is really about being tough rather than about being loving.  When there is punishment and the person doing the punishing says, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you,” we have a right to be skeptical.  Tough love has been used to justify just not really caring.
            Yet even with those concerns, I think tough love is an important concept.  Sometimes love requires that we let people know limits and boundaries.  Love can require letting people experience the consequences of their actions.  Love can mean speaking difficult truths.
            I will never forget an experience I had in a ministry learning setting when I was in seminary.  The small ministry placement group I was in worked at Abbot-Northwestern Hospital, and one time we were allowed to witness part of an alcohol treatment session.  The session we were given permission to witness was a family session.  Family members had come to the treatment center to meet with the woman who was there for her alcohol abuse.  I am guessing the woman was in her early to mid-sixties, and she had adult children there to speak about some of their experiences of her alcohol abuse.  I particularly remember an adult daughter talking about holiday meals, as her mother was intoxicated trying to get dinner ready and the mess and havoc that was created.  The daughter was courageous, even as she was crying.  This was an act of tough love.  This woman wanted her mother to know how destructive alcohol was in her life so she would make the effort to change.  What saddened me was that this mother seemed untouched by her daughters words.  She did not remember any of this and kind of blew it off.  Tough love was needed, but tough love is not magic.
            As parents, we know that we sometimes need to exercise tough love.  I think it has less to do with any kind of punishment than with sometimes allowing our children to experience the force of the consequences of their actions when they have made poor choices.  Such love is often tough on both parents and children.  It can mean having your child apologize and admit they were wrong.  It can mean having your child help repair something they may have broken.  As parents, tough love may also mean that we apologize to our children when we have been wrong or overreacted.  That can be tough, too.
            Tough love has its place.  Mary’s song is a song of tough love to the human community.  The words speak of the love of God which seems to recognize those on the margins, which is concerned for the lowly and the hungry.  It is a song which, in love, seems to say that when we only pay attention to the proud, the powerful and the well-off, we are missing the boat as a human community.  Love asks of us to do better.  Mary’s song is about accountability for the way the world is organized, and in a democracy, we all have some part to play in how our society is organized.
            I also want to suggest that there is another meaning to tough love that is even more important than tough love as accountability, as recognizing limits and boundaries, as living with consequences.  This kind of tough love is even more deeply woven into the Advent season.  This is the idea of love as tough because it is tenacious, because it never gives up.
            God’s love is that kind of tough love.  God’s love keeps coming to us again and again and again.  When we gather on Christmas Eve, that’s what we celebrate, the love of God which keeps arriving, and often in the most unlikely places – in the backwaters of Nazareth to a young unmarried woman, someone considered lowly.  I want to say a lot more about that on Thursday.
            Tough love is tenacious love.  It is the kind of love to which we are called.  As followers of this Jesus born of Mary we are to be tenacious in seeking a newer world, a world not just for the powerful and proud and well-off, but a world for all of us.  As followers of this Jesus born of Mary we are to be tenacious in our pursuit of hope, peace, joy and love.  These Advent candles are more than an opportunity to get more people involved in December worship.  They represent our calling, a calling to a tough, tenacious love.
            God wants to grace us with tough love, with hearts strong in love, with souls strong in spirit.  Mary is a wonderful example of such tough love.  She was willing to be tough in giving birth to one whose very nature and name would be love.  She was lowly, but tough enough to believe that God still cared, that God wanted to touch the world in a remarkable way through her.
            Tough love as tenacious love.  I don’t know how I discovered the poetry of William Stafford. I do know that it was not because my sister mistakenly bought a William Stafford book.  William Stafford has a poem that speaks to me powerfully about tough love.  The poem is called “A Ritual To Read To Each Other” and I want to share just a part of it.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
and following the wrong god home we may miss
our star.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe –
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

            The darkness around us is deep.  Mary looked at a world enthralled with the powerful, the proud, the well-off.  She believed tenaciously that God was not yet done with this world, that God, in love had more to do and she could help give birth to it.  Tough love, tenacious love.

            Tough love, a tenacious love which keeps on loving.  It is the kind of love with which God loves us.  It is the kind of love to which God calls us in Jesus.  Ain’t we tuff enough?  Fabulously so.  Amen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

What's Your Sign?

Sermon preached November 29, 2015

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

            The Fifth Dimension, “The Age of Aquarius”
            “What’s your sign?”  The question, one asked sometimes in the late 1960s/early 1970s referred to astrology - the belief that what happens in the stars affects what happens here on earth.  At its most basic, it has to do with understanding when you were born, which determines which of twelve signs you were born into, and those signs affect how you make decisions about your life.  My birthdate makes me a “Cancer.”  In the daily newspaper, you can read a “forecast” for the day based on your sign.  I am guessing some of us look at that every now and again, but most of the time the advice is pretty generic. 
Anyway, astrology was kind of popular in the 1960s and 1970s.  Some argued at the time, based on astrology, that we were on the verge of a wonderful new age, the Age of Aquarius.  However, things stayed very much the same and “What’s your sign?” became a cliché pick-up line.  There were some snappy comebacks to it.  “Hey, honey, what’s your sign?”  “Stop!”  “”You’re cute, what sign were you born under?” “No parking.” I won’t do a survey of those who may have used the line or heard the retorts.
            Much of people’s curiosity about astrology, or looking for signs, is pretty harmless.  That’s not always the case.  Individuals have gotten so caught up in astrology that it paralyzes their lives.  Major religious traditions have their own fascination with signs, not signs of the zodiac, but signs that tell them that the world may be coming to a cataclysmic end.  Sometimes this can also be rather harmless.  I will never forget the gentleman at a wedding reception I attended after officiating at the wedding coming up to me as he sipped whiskey from a plastic hotel coffee mug and asking, “Do you think we live in the end times?”  He may have thought so, but it obviously was not putting him in any kind of panic.
            Benign end times thinking isn’t always the case.  One of the haunting and dangerous things about the so-called Islamic State is that it is rooted in an end-times theology.  In explaining the meaning of its flag, an ISIS document reads: “We ask God, praised be He, to make this flag the sole flag for all Muslims.  We are certain that it will be the flag of the people of Iraq when they go to aid… the Mahdi at the holy house of God.”  The figure of the Mahdi is a savior who will appear in the end times, the times leading up to the apocalypse.  The Islamic State declaration of a caliphate is part of this apocalyptic, end-times theology, a theology not shared by most Muslims. (McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse, 22)  While a number of Muslims may have some kind of end-of-time theology, most do not share the notion that violence will hasten the coming of the Mahdi.  There is a real danger when a group of people believes that its violent actions will help bring about the decisive battle for God in the world.
            A significant number of Christians also believe that there will be a final battle between good and evil in the world, an Armageddon at the apocalypse.  Thankfully, most of these folks do not believe violence will hasten this event, the second coming of Christ.  While there may be some resemblance between Christian and Muslim end-time thinking, there is very little violence among Christians who may believe in a coming Armageddon, a coming apocalypse.  Yet sometimes this way of thinking has other drawbacks.  New Testament scholar Barbara Rossing argues “The dispensationalist timetable completely postpones any renewal or healing for the world until a distant time way off in the future….  Dispensationalists clearly are not interested in any healing for the world.” (The Rapture Exposed, 141)  Religion professor Amy Johnson Frykholm in her book Rapture Culture writes: “For some… the narrative of the rapture is primarily about exclusion.  It helps to create a faith house made of secure walls and a few doors, where only those with the right answers will be allowed inside” (187).  One negative side of this kind of Christian end-times thinking can be an apathy in the face of the world’s hurt and pain.  It won’t get better until Jesus comes again.  Another can be a deep sense of us versus them where the “us” is willing to let the “them” be fodder for destruction.  Jesus is coming again, so watch out you…  Instead of working to alleviate some of the hurt and pain of the world, difficulties and tragedies become only signs of the end-times – 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.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.
            These more ominous end-times theologies remind me of William Butler Yeats famous poem “The Second Coming” published in 1921.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world….

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Perhaps all the end-times thinking that happens when it seems that things are falling apart, the center failing to hold, leads not to a peaceable kingdom, but to the coming of some kind of rough beast?
            Yet, it is difficult to fault people for wondering if the world is not on the verge of some kind of cataclysm, some apocalyptic moment.  The very existence of ISIS, with its brutal rule over lands it controls and its willingness to make war not only on the West, but on any it considers infidels, shocks us.  We are weary of war, yet seemed doomed to engage in it – Syria, Nigeria, Ukraine, and countless other sites of conflict.  Paris has been attacked, blood running in the streets in a place where we imagine the blood should simply run through our hearts of little faster for it is a place of romance.  Racial tensions in the United States continue to be high.  In Chicago a police officer has been charged with first-degree murder following the release of a video showing his shooting of a seventeen-year-old.  The young man was high, and was wielding a knife, but if you saw the video you were left aghast that there were not more measures taken before the officer opened fire.  The officer was white, the young man black.  Just down the road from us, protests continue in Minneapolis over the shooting death of a twenty-four year-old African-American man.  There are a lot of details that remain unknown about the shooting, but our hearts are torn apart.  On top of that, three young white men shot at black protestors in Minneapolis, perhaps an act of white supremacy.  The human community seems unable to act in the face of some of our most difficult problems.  We are still working at racial reconciliation, and that needs to happen with Native Americans as well.  We don’t seem able to address issues of climate change, where there is strong evidence that human beings are contributing to the change in our climate that is having adverse effects.
            Are these simply to be viewed as signs of the end-times, of the coming of the Son of Man?  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.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory….  When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near….  Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.  Be alert.  The world is a difficult and troubling place.  Is our sole response to keep watch, to hang on, because it is simply inevitable?  Are we to be simply observers of signs, hoping to avoid the worst of what may happen to humanity until it is somehow all over and we end up on the right side of things?
            Or is there something else and something more?  I am intrigued that Luke uses the phrase, “the kingdom of God is near” in chapter 21.  Earlier in the gospel, when John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus, asking if he is the one to come, Jesus replies:  Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. (7:22)  The kingdom has come near in such things.  In chapter ten, Jesus tells the disciples as he sends them out, “the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 11).  In the next chapter of the gospel, Jesus casts out a demon and defends his actions with these words, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (11:20).  In chapter 17 of the Gospel, Jesus makes these cryptic statements to the Pharisees, The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There is is!”  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you (17:20-21)
            It seems, then, that when there is healing, help, freedom, when there is forgiveness and reconciliation, the kingdom of God is there.  Maybe the world often feels like it is falling apart, like the center cannot hold, like anarchy is loosed upon the world.  Maybe those signs in the moons and the sun and the stars are never far from us, wars and rumors of wars.  We long for a time when it might end, when there might be some decisive victory of good, when the pain and hurt and sorrow will be gone.  There may be such a time, but in the meantime our job may not be to try and figure out if we are near the end, to look for signs of the end.  Perhaps our job as followers of Jesus is to look for signs of God’s kingdom breaking into our history once again in acts of healing, compassion, justice, peace, reconciliation and love.  We cannot ignore the difficult signs in the world, and they are easy to spot.  What the world may need more is people who can point to places where love happens, where reconciliation occurs, where hurts are healed, where justice executed in the land, to use the language of Jeremiah.  “The days are surely coming” says Jeremiah.  Sometimes they are already here.  God works in the world now, not just in the future, and we are invited to see that.
            But even more, we are invited to be signs of God presence, power and work in the world.  Let me offer three voices.  Barbara Rossing:  While Christ’s reign is not yet fully realized, God gives us glimpses of it even now, even while we wait for it to fully unfold in the future.  [We can] enter into God’s vision for our world even now, and to live in terms of this vision. (149)  Another New Testament scholar, Walter Wink, writes: It is not difficult to see… perils that threaten the very viability of life on earth today.  Global warming, the ozone hole, overpopulation, starvation and malnutrition, war, unemployment, the destruction  of species and the rain forests, pollution of water and air, pesticide and herbicide poisoning, errors in genetic engineering, erosion of topsoil, overfishing, anarchy and crime, terrorism, the possibility of nuclear mishap: together, or in some cases singly, these dangers threaten to “catch us unexpectedly, like a trap”….  The positive power of apocalyptic lies in its capacity to force humanity to face threats of unimaginable proportions in order to galvanize efforts at self- and social transcendence. (The Human Being, 161, 159)  Theologian Jurgen Moltmann (The Coming God, 234, 235): The Indonesian word for hope means literally “to look beyond the horizon.” …  Life out of this hope then means already acting here and today in accordance with that world of justice and righteousness and peace, contrary to appearances, and contrary to all historical chances of success….  It means an unconditional Yes to life in the face of the inescapable death of all the living.

            What’s your sign?  Our sign is less to worry about when time will end and Jesus will come.  Our task is to watch for signs of how the power of God in Jesus is already at work in our world, even as we hope for and trust that in God all will be made right.  Our task is to become signs of the power of God in Jesus in how we live.  May Jesus come again through us to touch the world with hope and healing, justice and reconciliation, compassion and love.  Amen.