Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Bethlehem Road

Isaiah 64.1-9; Mark 13.24-37
Advent One
Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church

Today is the first step … along the Bethlehem Road … it’s Advent … the first Sunday of Advent … the first of four Sundays that take us along the Bethlehem Road.

The Star above … Wise Men from the East, Shepherds in the field, and the angels who sing to them … to Bethlehem we go … 

God is waiting for us, calling us … to make the journey …

Mary and Joseph are already there …

The powers that be ordered Mary and Joseph, and everyone else, to return to their hometowns, to register for taxation … everyone was on the move, and nothing seemed right … all was topsy turvy, the bad guys in charge, and in just such time, and in just such a place, the Son of God is born.

The Bethlehem Road … we’re on it today.

To find goodness and beauty … to find hope and peace … and there, before the manger, to lay down our gifts, our lives, our dreams, our love … all that we are, and all that we hope to be.

In Bethlehem, we find our true selves …

And what’s our true self?

We are children of God, and that means we’re brothers and sisters with one another … and that means we take care of one another.

We have no self without other selves connected to us … “no man is an island” said the poet John Donne. 

We’re created to be with each other, and for each other … every human being is family for us … remember when God questioned the Cain about his brother’s whereabouts, and Cain petulantly asked, “What, am I my brother’s keeper?”

And the answer, “Yes, of course, you are. You are your brother’s keeper.”

We’re all in this together … it’s sin that divides and sets us apart … it’s sin that tells us we’re exceptional and have certain rights over against others … nothing is more painful to watch than a person who believes they’re better then others … it’s a giant ego, we say … and such thoughts are the worst when those thoughts infect nations … as we saw in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia … all of those nations thought they were “exceptional” and what a world of suffering their pride created.

On the Bethlehem Road, we learn the truth about ourselves … we’re all exceptional, because we’re loved of God … and every nation is named by God … everyone and every nation has a place in the scheme of life, and only when we see how deeply connected we are to one another, only then do we learn who we are, what life is all about, and what we have to do.

There have been times in our nations history when this part of the Christian story held sway, and people and churches and synagogues and government took care of one another … and then there are times, when we’ve forgotten how to take care of one another, and then we fought a Civil War because some thought slavery was a good idea … and these days, I fear for our nation, that we are quickly becoming a nation ruled by self-interest and self-glory … led by people who are quick to grab all the clothing off the rack before anyone else has a chance to get even a coat or a pair of pants …

That’s why we need to make this journey to Bethlehem, to find our true selves … to find mercy and kindness and to guide our nation to a better place … to promote peace and not war … to share and not to take … to tell the truth and not use lies and alternate facts to hurt one another.

In Bethlehem, we find our true selves.

In Bethlehem, we find one another … and that’s always the way it is when we find ourselves … we find one another … 

The closer we move to Bethlehem, the closer we become to others … who are on the road to Bethlehem … many roads, from many different directions … everyone of good faith, whatever their faith, is on the road to Bethlehem … every religion, every faith - Jew and Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, Sikh and Christian … each in our own way, on the Bethlehem … and the closer we move toward Bethlehem, the closer we move to one another …

Here, in a big city, how close we are to one another … that’s why I love big cities … our neighbors are the world, and the world is our neighbor … the food we eat is different, the ways we dress and talk, the ways we worship god … all different, all wonderfully different … and that’s why we need each other … not one of us is complete by ourselves … no one faith tradition has all the truth, but only a part of it … Christians need to talk with Jews, and Jews with Muslims, and Muslims with Buddhists, and Buddhists with Sikhs … we all need one another to fulfill our own unique calling from God.

On the Bethlehem Road.

And along the way, the poor and the oppressed, the lost and the lonely … God asks us, “Do you see them, too? along the road? 

You can walk, but maybe they can’t … some have been set upon by thieves and left to die beside the road … some are orphans and some are widows who haven’t the means … some of them are strangers in our midst; they belong nowhere and have no home … can you see them on your way to Bethlehem?

Help them, carry them, provide for them … as the Samaritan did for the injured man on the Jericho Road …  “leave no one behind” is the only way for us to follow Christ and be faithful to our calling.

With helping hands and kindly words, we lift one another … and again and again, we remind this nation what it means to be a godly nation, not just with words printed on our money, or in phony prayer breakfasts that look good and stink to high heaven because of their hypocrisy … white washed tombs, said Jesus, beautiful on the outside and full of death inside.

We have to help our nation recover its senses, it’s purpose, it’s character … to leave no one behind, to provide for one another, with fair taxes, and ways and means so that the rich don’t get richer at the expense of the poor, and the poor don’t get poorer because the rich simply don’t care.

The rich and powerful rarely make the journey to Bethlehem - they don’t have the time or the interest, because they know that Bethlehem would change their lives, and they don’t want that kind change. They know it, and they fear it.

But we can do it, we have do it, we have to do it for them, and we have to show them their true selves, we have to help them see those beside the road … 

I’m an American … a proud and grateful American … and I’m a Christian, too … a Christian who wants this nation to recover its sense and regain its purpose … I want America to be great again … but right now, we’re not on a path to greatness; we’re on a highway to disaster.

As for credentials?

For better than 50 years, I’ve been a student of the Bible [sounds like the Apostle Paul] … I’ve read theology … I have a doctorate … I’m well-read in American and world history … if credentials mean anything, I have them … but it’s Christ finally to whom I appeal, on behalf of our nation - we’ve lost our way … our incessant wars, our failure to deal with poverty … the hideous forces of racism and misogyny … an administration mired in doubt and deceit … a tax plan that will hurt millions of Americans … our failure to deal realistically with immigration … the propaganda of fear paralyzing our moral compass … 

America is in the grip of unholy forces, economic and religious … standards of truth compromised … millions of Christians lost, because they have lost touch with Christ … they have traded away the Christ of Bethlehem for King Herod in his palace!

Only on the road to Bethlehem can life be found, only there, do we find ourselves, and only there, find one another.

In Bethlehem, we find ourselves found of God.

It’s not me, LORD; it’s you!

All of this begins with God … in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth … in the beginning, it was the love of God that said, “Let there be light.”

God is always first … the first to speak, the first to act, the first to love … and God is always last … the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and everything in between.

Jesus says, “You didn’t choose me, I choose you!”

Which is why I love infant baptism … there’s no chance here for anyone to say, “I chose Christ” … because none of us ever choose Christ … it’s Christ who chooses us, and no better image of this grace, this mercy, than infant baptism.

Because it always starts with an infant … the infant Moses … and infant Samuel … and the infant Jesus … God is always the God of good beginnings, good endings … and even in the middle, in the muddle, good things … at work in all things for good.

We discover the mystery of faith on the Bethlehem Road.

We find ourselves … and we find one another.

On the Bethlehem Road.

Hallelujah and Amen!