The Pas Advent 2
4 December 2016
Psalm72:1-7, 18-19 pg 797
God of justice, clear our lives of hatred and despair and sow in us seeds of joy and peace; so that shoots of hope may spring forth in us as we await the coming of the Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I find that the epistle reading, from Romans has a lot to tell us, today. We are in the midst of awaiting the return of Christ as our King, and yet, we have no idea when this event will happen.
I wonder if this is why soap operas have been so popular on daytime television, since television moved to centre stage in our lives?
When we look at Paul’s words, today, we have to remember that Paul was writing to a community that couldn’t agree on absolutely anything. When one aspect of the community said ‘left’, the others would say ‘right’. The only thing they could agree upon was that Jesus was the Messiah.
The reason for such division within the body of Christ was that the community was composed of both Jews and Gentiles.
One group came to Christianity through Jewish tradition and the other from mainstream Roman society which meant anything other than Jewish. And trying to work out the idea of who or what was right, or what was allowed gave no one any peace in mind, heart, soul or strength.
We have some familiarity with such unease, every day. We can see it in the international relations between one group and another, today often expressed in military terms.
We can see it in the differing ideas of how to be good Christians, as demonstrated in the differing interpretations of Christianity as denominations.
We can see it in the differing ideas of how to be stewards of creation, much less good stewards of creation.
We can see it on the ever slowly spinning stages of our favourite soap operas.
Paul’s words are able to take us right back to the foundations of our faith. He tells us “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures, and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope. “ (Rom 15:4)
There are some clues in this passage, even in this very verse that we are able to use to encourage our faith, and our life together. First is Paul’s capitalization of the word “Scriptures” in this verse.
If Paul is taking the time to emphasize the word “Scriptures” then it’s important to him, and so it’s important to us, as well.
But it’s not just “Scriptures,” it’s also “endurance taught in the Scriptures” that’s important to us, not just today, but every day.
The ability to keep going, even one step, to keep believing, especially when it looks like absolutely everything is going against us, is some days the most difficult.
And when we add in what we believe in about life, about faith, and especially in regards to Christ Jesus, it can seem like an insurmountable task.
And so we come back to Paul’s words to us today when he tells us “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Rom 15:7)
He didn’t say, accept those who look like you. He didn’t say you have to change to bring praise to God, rather Paul encourages us to accept each other as we find each other, and where, in our journeys we currently stand.
No matter what we look like, no matter where we come from, no matter what our gender, we all gain strength in and through our faith, through the stories of endurance we find in the Scriptures.
And those stories of endurance are the backbone of the Scriptures that Paul is talking about, today.
We have Abraham and Sarah and God’s promise to make their children as numerous as the stars in the sky.
There’s Moses who leads the Hebrew people from a life of slavery to a life of freedom, in the land that God had promised to Abraham.
Ruth and Naomi and their faith that carried them from drought and famine to fulfilling God’s promises to raise up a king for Israel.
Then there’s Esther who saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Persians, by adhering to her faith in God.
David, and Solomon not only ruled Israel and are accounted amongst the greatest of Israel’s kings, still today, but also Nathan was the prophet who advised David during his notable reign, both in the positive and the negative situations.
And lets not forget the prophets, who are given the always seemingly impossible job of proclaiming God’s message to people who don’t want to listen, who don’t want to change and return to the love that God wishes to see from us, and at the same time lavish upon us.
And this is just the Old Testament!
In the New Testament, we find John the Baptist whose own birth is a miracle and whose job is to proclaim the imminent arrival of the Messiah in society. We have the journeys of the disciples who come from rural and social obscurity to become the leaders of the church, and Paul who began life as Saul who persecuted the new church in its infancy. Not only that, Paul is the largest single contributor to the content of the New Testament; so when Paul tells us to turn to the Scriptures, we can see that he’s on to something.
No matter what the circumstances of our lives may be, today, at this moment; no matter where it is we find ourselves, the Scriptures are able to help us to see the world around us through the eyes of our faith.
Looking at the world, at each other through the eyes of our faith is where we need to look to find the encouragement Paul talks about, today, so that “we might have hope.” (vs 4)
Hope for more than just today, hope for tomorrow, hope in the promises Jesus made that he will return, when the time is right.
This also points us to the passage from Isaiah for today, as well, when Isaiah tells us “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (Isa 11:3b-4)
The Messiah comes to us to lead us, to teach us, to love as God loves us, and to help us to look at the world through God’s interpretation rather than our own.
Isaiah points out that that God’s interpretation, the way God sees the world isn’t through our eyes, or through our ears. Rather God’s interpretation is through our hearts, through the application of righteousness, and through a liberal use of justice in all aspects, all areas of our lives.
Applying this verse to the community at Rome, to the situation we see Paul describing, today, we can see where each side of the community would interpret this passage from Isaiah to suit their own circumstances, their own opinions, their own view of how to be a worshipping community, together.
What Paul is telling us is that it is through the Scriptures that we not only find endurance, we find strength, but at the same time, we find commonalities between us.
Paul tells us “Accept one another… just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God.” (Rom 15:7)
Paul isn’t telling us that it doesn’t matter if we pull each other apart, if we belittle each other and see others as inferior to ourselves. In fact, he’s telling us the exact opposite.
No matter who we are, where we come from, or what our backgrounds may be, the moment we gather, together, as the people of God we are all one.
This is what Paul is emphasizing to the people of Rome, today. This is what Paul reminds us of ourselves, as well. No one person is more or less important than another.
We are one voice, one heart, one purpose. We are the body of Christ, as well as the children of God. This means we are one family.
Paul gives us some encouragement from the Hebrew Scriptures; words that are still meaningful for each of us, as we seek encouragement, in our lives, today.
He tells us: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”
Moreover, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”
And this last one brings us directly back to the passage from Isaiah, for today, once more. To the hope that springs eternal from the pages of Scripture, the hope that feeds our souls so that we can look with love on the people all around us.
It brings us back to the promise of the Nicene Creed “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
Promises repeated in the words of the Apostles’ Creed which tells us: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
Once again, words rooted in scripture, words that we repeat weekly as we allow the liturgy to wash over us, to seep into our pores like a good bath, like a healing balm to our lives.
Once again, come together to be encouraged by the words of Scripture, to find, once more, the love of Christ that flows between us connecting us in the most unexpected ways, allowing us to see only the best in each other, and seeking encouragement for and from each other.
We continue to the future that only God knows as we await the return of Jesus, to fulfill God’s promise, to fulfill the words of our statements of faith, the creeds.
Today, once again, we hear Paul say “I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” (Rom15:9b)