The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
This week has been a constant reminder of what my Pastor friend Pete preached on, regularly, when I attend his church in Australia: "ministry is what happens when you are on your way somewhere, and when you know what you have planned for the day."
I came into the office on Thursday morning pleased with the fact that I cleared my desk of everything, that I knew of, that had to be handled, before the weekend. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to preach on and I was quite excited that I could sit down and write out my Sermon in a couple of hours.
I had been in a discussion, earlier this week with some friends, and I had challenged myself, and them, to a discipline of reading Scripture with a new awareness. I encouraged us all to look for phrases or sentences which caught our attention. To look for what stood out, what we heard in a new way, even if we had heard the particular scripture many times before. I believe I said something like this: "many times we come to scripture with an attitude of determination." "I have to get this done." I have to knuckle down and accomplish the reading so I can say it is done!"
I tried to encourage us to read with a sense of expectancy. Looking and hoping that something would provoke us to a new thought or a new opportunity. I believe I said that we were looking for Serendipity moments.
Now, I know that is not completely accurate. Serendipity has to do with coincidence and mostly happy coincidence. But, I wanted to lighten the approach we were taking. To look at what we reading, for what we might discover that would be "by coincidence." That it would remind us of something else we knew or held to valuable. That we would read and find that we were happy that we saw that image or heard the verse.
I was hoping we would read the Scriptures with a sense of anticipation and expectation. Not read as though it were a drudgery. To have our spirits and our souls lightened by what we read. Not to find ourselves burdened by our commitment to accomplish the set task.
When I came into the office on Thursday morning I was excited to develop that idea and relate it to Advent and our Gospel reading for this morning.
Luke describes the people going out into the wilderness to hear John the Baptist speak. Now, John wasn't saying anything new. The prophets had been saying these things for centuries.
The Hebrew/Jewish people were familiar with what John was quoting. He used familiar words from Isaiah. But because of the wilderness setting that John was in, and John's somewhat peculiar approach they heard these words in a new and fresh way. Their response was a Serendipitous moment. Suddenly they heard "good news." They longed to engage with the Scriptures in a new and refreshing empowering way.
John, was able, by his preaching to get the people to look forward. The Messiah was coming and because of what John preached the people wanted to get involved in what John was speaking about. They wanted to be Baptized and to begin looking with anticipation to the things that John was pointing towards.
An interesting side note here is that John's ministry is recorded after what some scholars record as the 400-year silence. This period is also known as the Intertestamental Period. The time between the Old and the New Testament.
"It is known by some members of the Protestant community as the "400 Silent Years" because it was a span where no new prophets were raised and God revealed nothing new to his people."
When John began preaching his message the Pharisees and the Sadducees where among the central religious leaders of the people living under Roman rule in Israel at the time.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees spent a lot of their time and effort pointing the people to the former glory of Israel. They spent a lot of their time trying to get the people to conform and the way they did that was to remind them of the "good old days of Israel."
They spent a lot of time reminding them of what they had lost and what had been taken away from them. The lament was focused on what they could no longer do or what they no longer had.
Then here comes John and he gets the people to look forward. He gets the people eager and anticipating. Preparing for the new age. The Kingdom of God breaking into the world.
There was so much I had to say about this idea that I was looking forward to getting into the office and writing it all down.
When I got home Thursday night Fiona asked me how the day went and my response was: "hmmm, I know I got a lot accomplished, But I never wrote one word of my Sermon."
It seemed to me that Thursday swirled by and yet the central point of my Sermon never changed through the whole day. It kept coming back to me in glimpses and partially completed thoughts and ideas all through the day.
Then Thursday evening I joined the vestry in a zoom vestry meeting. I particularly was aware that the Pandemic is creeping ever closer to our community. When I received an email from one of the Vestry members suggesting that we meet virtually, rather than in-person, I saw that as a valid concern and I organized that we would do a part in-person meeting and part virtually.
As the day passed I became aware of information that meant that we probably should move to a completely virtual meeting rather than have some people present in the meeting room. The vestry agreed to my guidance and we met Thursday night.
I have to say that vestry is a place where there is a wide range of views and opinions. As we have met over the last few months we have reviewed and discussed how we will move forward with worship given the circumstances of the world in which we are living.
Can I say that I am grateful to my colleagues who are members of the vestry. We have had frank and candid conversations around the topic of worship. We do not necessarily have a consensus, of opinion, but we have always managed to come to a consensus when we finally come down to voting on issues. There is a commitment to each other and a commitment to the life of this community which allows us to hear each other and to value what others say in our meetings. Then there is a commitment to abide by what is decided by the vestry.
As the meeting progressed concern was raised about our moving forward with in-person worship. A motion was proposed that we consider moving to virtual live stream worship rather than continue with our limited in-person worship.
Eventually, after some discussion, the motion was put to the meeting and the vestry decided to move to one service which would be live-streamed.
The vestry is committed to finding ways to improve and develop communication within the parish. We will be seeking to reestablish the phone tree ministry. We will be developing a calling ministry. I will begin calling members of the Parish to check-in. We are going to seek to find the means for us to improve the technological abilities among parishioners.
Then on Friday afternoon the Bishop, Bishop Mark Hollingsworth wrote to everyone in the Diocese. The Bishop expressed his concern and care for the people of the parishes of the Diocese. In summary, he suspended in-person worship throughout the Diocese.
This morning I had the opportunity to be involved in a webinar that focused on Jesus' call for us all to be involved in radical hospitality. It was a challenging and encouraging opportunity.
Then I had to support a couple of our Parish families whose loved ones have been admitted to hospital.
So I finally came to write my Sermon at around 1:30 this afternoon. I certainly remember Pastor Pete's words very clearly as I wrap this up this afternoon.
Ministry is what happens when you are on your way somewhere or you have planned what you are going to do on a particular day.
All I can say at this point is AMEN!
But I would like to end this morning by encouraging us all to approach the Scriptures and indeed our daily lives with a sense of anticipation and expectation.
A saw a poster this week that I believe is very appropriate for us all today. It said: "You cannot approach an Adventure without going through Advent."
I know it doesn't work quite as well when I read it to you. So I'll just say the beginning of Adventure is spelled Advent.
Hmm not sure how well that is going to work. Maybe I will put it in the Weekly Update and you can see it instead of hearing it.