Sunday, December 16, 2018

December 16, 2018 - Palms Westminster - "Do Not Let Your Hands Grow Weak"

Zephaniah 3.14-20; Luke 3.7-18

My granddaughter and her parents live in Amsterdam, and during the winter months, it’s cold and damp.
Her folks picked her up from school the other day, on a cold and blustery day, and asked if she had played outside. “Yes,” said said. 

And, then, they asked: “Were you cold?

She replied, “No! Now I’m hardy!”

Well, she’s learning to be Dutch, learning to be hardy, because the Dutch have battled the waters to make a land … 

With dikes and dams and the latest in engineering, they’ve learned to work together; they’ve learned to be hardy.

As the Dutch put it: “God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland.”

So, here we are, the Third Sunday of Advent.

Zephaniah says:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

And why exult? … because:

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

Because we have work to do!

The love of God is never a call to lay down and snooze … to blow off the problems of our world and simply say: “God will take care of us” … no, we’re called to put our hand to the plow and not look back … we’re called to take up our cross and go to work … Jesus says, Come, and follow me … go where I go, do what I do, be as I am … love as your Father in heaven loves … let your light shine before others, so they can see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven … you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

When God created the heavens and the earth, and created you and me, and put us into the garden - it wasn’t to lay around and dream sweet dreams …

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

And when it became obvious that help was needed, God created the woman, to be a partner in the work.

Everyone is called, everyone given a task … everyone has to work.

How many of you have ever kept a garden?

It’s a lot of work.

We prepare the earth … we buy the best seed … we plant with care … we pull the weeds and put on the fertilizer … we water and then we watch the miracle of growth occur … 

When God created us, it wasn’t just for a wee bit of a plot to manage, but the whole wide world … the fish of the sea … the birds of the air … every living thing that moves upon the earth.

God gives the world to us … and gives us the responsibility to care for it.

The whole wide world … that’s why God created us to work together … that’s why gives us the ability to form communities, to build nations … to care for one another … to provide for the weakest of the community … so that no one is left behind, no one abandoned … 

We do this together … 

Yesterday at a wedding, I read 1 Corinthians 13, and thinking about today’s sermon, these words hit me hard:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 

Whether it be a preacher in a pulpit, a parent with children, or the president of a nation: life requires truth …

To work together, we have to tell the truth … lies disrupt, lies distort, lies destroy … truth builds up, truth encourages us to work well with one another, even if the truth is hard.
Truth builds bridges, not ditches.
Truth builds highways, not walls.

Notice how the Apostle Paul put it?

Love takes no pleasure in wrongdoing … and, then, rather than saying “love rejoices in doing right,” Paul says, Love rejoices in the truth.

Ought we not in this place to be concerned about the truth? 

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life …  

Of all the places on the face of the earth where truth has to be central, it has to be in the church of Jesus Christ … 

Where truth counts all the time, where lies of any kind have no place: the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves, the lies we tell about others, lies about science and creation and immigrants … religious lies, spiritual lies, lies about who’s damned and who’s saved … who’s naughty and who’s nice.

Of all the many lies being told these days, none larger, and none more threatening to God’s creation, than the lies revolving around climate change …  

Our best scientists all agree, thousands and thousands of scientists all around the world, agree, that climate change is real, and it’s related to human activity … 

And it’s all about God’s good earth … 

Many years ago, an elder said to me, and this was in the day when nuclear war seemed so close, “So what,” said the elder; “If we all die, don’t we just go to heaven?”

His question caught me off guard; I don’t know what I said, but his question made me think … and one day, I put it in the form of a story.

A man stood at the pearly gates, and said to St. Peter, “Well, here I am?” 

And St. Peter said, “I have to turn you away?”

The man blustered: “I went to church, I prayed, I read my Bible, I witnessed to others.”

But St. Peter said: “You didn’t care about God’s good earth. What makes you think you’ll care about God’s good heaven.” And St. Peter turned him away.

God created the heavens AND the earth … the earth is precious to God … and it must precious to us, too.

We didn’t know better when it all began … we burned coal and chopped down the trees … we ripped up the soil and dumped our waste into lakes and streams.

But we know better now … God has been good to us: giving us women and men who are called, by the Spirit of God, to study God’s world … 

And they’re telling us, some of the them are shouting at us …

The release of carbon into the atmosphere along with the loss of forests is creating a change in our climate, and the outcome is already evident, all around the world, and it’s going to get worse if we fail to join hands and join efforts to make the needed changes … to keep on caring for God’s good earth.

Zephaniah said: Do not fear, O Zion, do not let your hands grow weak

Like the Dutch: it’s time to be hardy.

Build the dikes and the dams.
Learn new ways of taking care of God’s good earth.
Pay attention to those who tell the truth.
Think carefully, think critically, pray a lot.
Be informed by the truth, and formed by the Spirit of God.

Today, here, at Palms Westminster, the Third Sunday of Advent: shout aloud for joy and never for a moment let your hands grow weary … 

Hallelujah and Amen!