Tag Archives: Messiah

We are not Messiah

John 1:6-8,19-28

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'”  (Read the whole passage)

I am not.
No, not Elijah.
I am not the Messiah.

Three Advent statements on this 3rd Sunday of the season.

We are into the the third week of Advent, the third week of our period of waiting and watching. Of wondering and mystery about the coming of Messiah. Advent began by speaking of the end, speaking about our waiting for the Son of Man to return and bring about the great cosmic setting to right all of creation. Last week Mark introduced us to the coming of Messiah, first in the words of Isaiah who spoke to exiles longing to return home to God’s care and compassion, and then in the words of John the Baptist’s warning of the Messiah coming to offers us a swift kick in the pants!

Today, John is back again. Preaching this time to us from the gospel of John. And John has a curious conversation with the priests and levites – the temple authorities.

They want to know who he is, but the way John tells them seems roundabout, almost backwards.

John identifies himself by who he is not.

Imagine coming to a church for the first time, you might introduce yourself to the first person you meet,

“Hello, my name is Erik.”

“I am not the Pastor.”

“Okay, then what is your name, are you the usher?”

“I am not the usher.”

“Well, then who exactly are you?”

“I am the voice of one crying in the narthex, prepare the bulletins and hymnbooks.”

That would be a pretty weird interaction.

Yet, John isn’t being as strange as it may sound. In fact John is doing something we do often too. As Canadians we often identify ourselves as not being Americans. As Lutherans was have often identified ourselves as not Catholic.

So when John says he is not the Messiah and that he is not Elijah, it means he is identifying himself by who he is not. To know he is not Elijah means to know that he is not the return of the great prophet. To know that he is not the Messiah means he knows that his purpose is to point to the Messiah, to know who the Messiah will be and what the Messiah will do. John knows that he is not the Messiah, but that his identity and his purpose are tied closely to Messiah’s.

I am not.
No, not Elijah.
I am not the Messiah.

John tells the priests and the levites that he is not the Messiah. John hasn’t come to save the world.

What John demonstrates is that the priests and the levites, perhaps obviously, don’t know who the Messiah is. And they wouldn’t know the Messiah if they were to see the Messiah. But shouldn’t they know? As the religious leaders of the people who have been waiting for the signs of Messiah’s coming for generations, shouldn’t they know?

The same could be said of us. As Christians in a long line of people preaching about and waiting for Jesus to return, shouldn’t we be more clear on who the Messiah is?

And yet, because we wonder what God is doing with us and wonder when Messiah is coming, we have become unclear about who we are too. Are we communities of the faithful, gathered around the same core things that have given Christians meaning and purpose for centuries, the Word of God and the Sacraments? Or are we community centres? Social clubs? Culture clubs? Music appreciation societies? Social justice groups?

If we could be a little flashier, a little more attracting of the crowds, if the glory days of old could come again… if we could just go back to being the confident churches we once were, then we could be confident in knowing what God is up to in our world and up to with us.

But we have just as many questions as the priests and levites. Struggling under decline and aging, feeling out of place and irrelevant in our world, waiting for things to change… we have forgotten who we are, and we wouldn’t know if God was working in and through us, even if we saw it.

John the Baptist speaks with clarity and certainty about who he is not. He is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, he is not the prophet.

And because John knows who he is not, he knows that he is not the one who will save God’s people, nor does he carry that burden.

He knows that he is not the return of Elijah, the embodiment of Israel’s greatest hopes, and he doesn’t have to live up to the impossible standard.

He knows that he is not the prophet, the one calling the people back to God, and he doesn’t need forge a new path for them.

And John knows this because God has given him an identity. John is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’

John is a witness, a preacher, a disciple, a follower. He is not the one coming to save, but the first to admit that he needs saving.

John’s clarity is rooted in the identity that God has given to him. He is not the Messiah, but deeply connected to the Messiah… John is a witness to Messiah, a sinner forgiven by Messiah, the dead one raised by Messiah, the lost one saved by Messiah.

I am not.
No, not Elijah.
I am not the Messiah.

The identity that God has given to John, is the same identity that God has given to us.

Even as we forget and become unclear about who we are, and therefore who God is, the Messiah reminds us again and again where our identity is given.

In the waters of baptism, God names us as God’s own.

Forgiven yet sinners,
made whole yet broken,
reconciled yet estranged,
found yet lost
alive once dead,

God names us in the waters, and reminds us of who we are, week after week as we receive forgiveness and mercy.

God gives us an identity rooted in the stories told here week after week, as we proclaim anew the coming of Messiah into this world.

God joins us together as one, at the table of the Messiah, we become that which we eat, the body of Christ.

And this identity that God gives to us, allows us to know who we are not. Just as the identity that God gave to John, allowed him to clearly know who he was not.

We are not the ones called to fix everything, we are not Messiah.

We are not the ones called to restore the glory days, we are not Elijah.

We are not the ones called to point out everyone else’s flaws, we are not the prophet.

We are not.
No, not Elijah.
We are not the Messiah.

We are the baptized, God’s children made alive through water and the word.

And because the identity given to us in the waters of baptism tells us who we are, it also allows us to know and to see the Messiah coming amongst us.

The Messiah who is the one, coming to forge a new way and a new path for God’s people.

The Messiah who is the one who embodies our greatest hopes, but also who brings to fulfillment God’s hope for us.

And the Messiah who is the one coming to save. The one in whom children of God, the sinners and broken ones, the broken and estranged ones, the lost and dead ones… the Messiah in whom people waiting for light and life discover who God has named them to be.

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Adjusting to the darkness of Advent

Matthew 24:36-44

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Read the whole passage)

It is time to begin again. Advent is here. The wreath is set out, the colour blue adorns the sanctuary, we are dusting off the advent portion of the hymnbook and we are settling in for 4 weeks of waiting and watching, of “keeping awake” as Jesus would say, for the coming of Messiah. But Advent is not an annoying countdown for Christmas invented by pastors to keep people from singing Christmas Carols in December (although we might be tired of Joy to the World and Silent Night by Christmas Eve if we did).

Advent is a complete idea or season unto itself. Advent reminds us of where we began as Christians, as God’s people waiting for salvation in a dark world. And it is not about what comes at the end of the waiting, but about what waiting means for us. About how waiting for that which is not here, waiting for justice and peace in the world compels us to strive for those things. Advent is about how we wait for God to come to rescue us, and it is about how God is waiting for our eyes adjust to the darkness so that we can see that God is, in fact, bringing light and hope into our world.

Today, we are reseting the church’s cycle of telling the story of Jesus. A cycle that has been continuing in some form or another for nearly 2000 years. And in the 3 year cycle of readings that we follow Sunday after Sunday, today is beginning of year A, the first year of the cycle. Which means, that today we have heard the first 4 readings of the first Sunday of the first year of the cycle.

And isn’t it strange that the first words chosen for us to hear from the bible are passages about the end of time?

Last week on Christ the King Sunday, we ended the church year by going to the middle of the story, the crucifixion. And today, on the first Sunday of the New Year, we start by going to end. Sometimes the church can do things a little backwards.

But there is a reason to start at the end… or at least, as Jesus tells his disciples that no one knows the day nor the hour when the Son of Man will come but the Father, Jesus is trying to get us to see something important. Jesus is trying to tell us something about what it means to be ready for the end of all things.

Now, given that we are in the season of Advent, the season of preparation, the notion that no one knows the day or hour of coming of the son Man has always seemed more of technicality to me. Sure we don’t have the moment marked down in the calendar, but we are ready just the same. Jesus wants us to be prepared, right? The issue here seems to be one about knowing and not knowing the time.

Well, not so fast.

The examples that Jesus gives of unreadiness are more than just about failing to live up to the boy scout motto. It isn’t just that people didn’t know the exact moment of the return of the son of man. The people of Noah’s day had no idea what was coming. The two working in the field were oblivious, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have been working in the fields. The same for the women grinding meal. The owner of the house is robbed because he wasn’t awake.

Jesus doesn’t say be ready because you don’t know the day or hour.

Jesus says keep awake

Or in other words, maybe all of our Advent preparations are not actually not what Jesus is talking about. Maybe as we are about to put a lot of our attention and focus into trips to the mall for gift buying, putting up lights and baking Christmas cookies, filling our calendars with Christmas parties and concerts, getting ready for Messiah by getting ready for the holidays… maybe Jesus is talking about something different.

Keeping awake.

Keeping awake to the world around us is more than a matter of not knowing the exact moment. It is about awareness, about being attentive to the world around us. Letting our eyes adjust to dark places, to the people and circumstances around us who really need light and hope and salvation. Because keeping awake might mean paying attention to the hard stuff, to the suffering of our neighbours. Keeping awake might be opening our eyes to the crisis of fentanyl overdoses that has landed in our province this fall. Keeping awake to the plight of Indigenous people protesting for their water rights at Standing Rock. Keeping awake to the increase in racism, sexism and bigotry and accompanying violence that has erupted in the US and Canada since the election. Keeping awake to the plight of the Syrians living with daily bullets and bombs, children and families with no safe place to go. The more we open our eyes, the farther out into the world we see more suffering.

Keeping awake is hard and painful. We would much rather watch Christmas movies and drink egg nog. It is much easier to be distracted and on auto-pilot with Christmas preparations than it is to sit, rest and be awake in Advent.

Still as Jesus implores us to be awake, the examples he uses are ones where people are still sleeping. The people around Noah did not see the flood coming. The ones working in the field, the ones grinding meal did not know the time was coming. The owner of the house wasn’t expecting to be robbed. They were not awake. They were sleeping at the wheel.

And each time, the Son of Man came anyways.

For you see, Jesus might tell us to keep awake with the disciples and to watch for the coming of Messiah into our world, but Messiah’s coming doesn’t depend on our wakefulness.

In fact, Jesus knows that we will almost certainly be asleep when Messiah comes.

Yet,

Messiah comes because the world needs Messiah.
Messiah comes because we are waiting for salvation.
Messiah comes because we need hope.

Keeping awake isn’t about making Messiah come, but about seeing where Messiah already is.
Keeping awake isn’t just about seeing the bad stuff, but letting us see the light.
Keeping awake is letting our eyes adjust to the dark, so that we begin to see that there is light.

Messiah’s light is appearing as communities rally together to support those affected by addictions.
Messiah’s light grows as people all over the world begin standing with Standing Rock.
Messiah’s light multiplies as friends and neighbours stand up and speak out against racism, sexism, violence and hate.
Messiah’s light shows up wearing white hats in Syria, running to the danger and working to recuse and save victims wherever possible.

And Messiah’s light is born here among us, as we gather to tell the story of Jesus, to pray and sing, to share a meal and to fellowship. As we strive for justice and peace in our communities and the world around us.

The end is coming, the son of man arrives at an unexpected day and hour.

And Jesus says, Keep Awake.

Keep awake for Advent.
Keep awake in a dark world.
Keep awake even though it is hard.

And even though we are sleeping, Messiah comes.

And here in our dark world,

Messiah’s light is born.
Messiah’s light grows.
Messiah’s light is here.

Messiah is the story of Advent, the story that we are beginning over again today. Messiah is the one who is that small light in a dark world, the light that is hard to see until our eyes adjust, but that is there, pushing back the darkness, allowing us to see a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Keep Awake, Jesus says,

because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,
but you do know that Messiah in on the way.

The Temple has Been Thrown Down – Paris, Beirut, Baghdad

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”… For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” (Read the Whole Passage here)

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Some weeks as a preacher, you plan one thing, and the breaking news comes. The hourly news on the radio, twitter and Facebook alerts, news articles

19 in Bagdad

43 in Beirut

127 in Paris

Explosions and bullets.

Chaos. Fear. Death.

The world prays for Paris and beyond.

The veneer of business as usual is once again shattered.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families today as the long slow process of rebuilding life begins.

But as we sit here, tucked away from the danger, yet still with heavy hearts, we know that there are explosions and shootings everyday. Paris feels closer to home, than Beirut or Baghdad, but the violence happens everyday.

(Pause)

Father Angelo has led a number of tours of holy sites in his ministry at St. David’s. Every few years, he offers a chance for a group from the congregation to travel for a couple weeks and to see historical parts of the world. He has taken groups to the Holy Land a number of times, to Rome, and to England. This year, the group was touring the Cathedrals of central Europe. They were headed to the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, the Cologne Cathedral.

As the tour bus approached, the group could see the cathedral towering above the city. With the twin towering spires looking like they were reaching for heaven above, Father Angelo led the group into the church. The Cathedral was bustling with life. There were hundreds of people mingling about. There were a dozen tour guides were lecturing groups in different languages.

And then all of a sudden a loud crash could be heard outside, followed by the whole cathedral shaking, dust scattering everywhere.

And then another explosion… all the people inside the church froze for a moment. And then as if on cue, people began running, screaming and shouting. Father Angelo called for his group to stay calm and stay put.

(Pause)

Next Sunday will be Christ the King, the New Year’s Eve of the church year. And then we will reset the story of Jesus, and begin again with pregnancy as we wait for the birth of Messiah.

But we are not quite there yet… Instead first we must hear the last portion of Mark’s gospel for this year. And in true Markan fashion, it is yet another conversation between Jesus and the disciples, where they miss the point and Jesus gets annoyed.

Paris is exactly what Jesus is talking about with the disciples. As they marvel at grandness of the temple, Jesus points out how they cling to the illusion of security, safety, comfort, and enduringness. They see the temple as a sign of God’s power. Jesus’ words about the temple are not judgement or condemnation. He isn’t hoping for the temple to fall. He is simply warning of the inevitable. He is telling the disciples that if the stones of the temple are where they place their faith… They will not just be disappointed, but one day they will be fleeing the falling stones as they threaten to come down.

On Friday, we bore witness as Paris was another destruction of the temple. A temple built to our own power, our own security, to faith in our own god-likeness. Because unlike Beirut or Bagdad, Paris is the same stadiums and restaurants and concert halls that we believe are safe for us. We are shaken because Paris could be here. We could be the ones out for dinner, watching the game, at a concert when the bullets start flying, or the suicide bombers decide to press the button.

If our faith is in the large stones and tall buildings and in the idea that violence couldn’t happen here, we will be disappointed.

And at the same time, if our fear is that every refugee is a terrorist and that we can close our doors and boarders to be safe while not also closing off some part of our hearts, we have again put our faith in the wrong thing.

Jesus warns us not to be surprised when the stones begin to fall and when the wars begin. But as we try to understand even more senseless violence and death, it is hard to understand what God is up to.

Jesus does give us a clue. The birth pangs.

As we are about to begin Advent, the church’s season of pregnancy, we know that the birth pangs mean that something new is about to happen. We know that the pain and suffering, the aches and stiffness, the loss of control and uncertainty about what is coming might be signs of impending death and destruction. But with God, we know that these are also the signs of something new, something being born into our world.

(Pause)

In just few minutes, the cathedral was nearly emptied out. Father Angelo and his group found an alcove to take shelter in with a few other tourists. There were sirens and the sound of gun fire coming outside. The world seemed to have flipped from wonderful European holiday to surreal chaos in the blink of an eye.

As the group huddled together, the doors to the cathedral burst open. 3 young, dark skinned men with beards and backpacks came pouring in. The St. David’s tour group looked at each other in abject fear. A few started sobbing, one person cried, “This is the end.”

Father Angelo stood up and left the alcove. He waved the three men over to alcove. They came running, and as he ushered them into the alcove, breathing heavily, they sat down next to the others against the wall.

One looked up to Father Anglo and said, “Thank you, Father.”

Father Angelo nodded.

As the St. David’s group slowly began to relax, the three men checked their phones and caught their breath.

As the noises of chaos and sirens continued outside the church, the group settled in. One of the men, looking as scared and worried as anyone in the St. David’s group, looked again towards Father Angelo and said, “Father, will you lead us in prayer.”

“Yes… we should pray, shouldn’t we.” said Father Angelo.

And together, the 3 young dark skinned men, cathedral stragglers and the group of St. David’s began to pray, “Kyrie Eleison. Lord have mercy.”

(Pause)

In the midst to crashing stones, Jesus could have said that these things mean the end. Instead he says they are the birth pangs. That these things mean something beginning, not something ending. We so often see the struggle and pain, the chaos and uncertainty as symptoms of dying. Yet, these are also symptoms of pregnancy.

And with God, the birth pangs points us to a pregnant teen and her carpenter husband travelling the harsh country side in the midst of foreign occupation and population control. The birth pangs herald a baby born in the most inconspicuous of stables in the back corner of the world far away from large temple and large stones.

God’s work happens in the quiet corners. God’s work happens with normal people, like us.

It is like Mr Rogers who reminds us to “look for the helpers”.

It is the Porte Ouverte, Open Door message that Parisians used to let those who were stuck outside know that there was safety to be found.

It is a musician who drags his grand piano on his bike, to play John Lennon’s imagine outside of the bombed out concert hall.

It is hearts that refuse to be closed off even though every instinct tells us it is not safe to be open to the “other”.

But most of all the birth pangs are signs of God’s promise that death does not have the final say. That tall buildings and large stones, nor explosions and the bullets, are the powers that define us.

Instead in the places where we least expect,

God stands where tall buildings and stones have fallen.

God is thwarting the bullets and explosions.

God is birthing new life.

God has already begun the work of reconciliation and resurrection.

Because reconciliation and resurrection always begin in the broken and tragic places.

Because new life must first begin in death.

Because God works with mangers and crosses, with open doors and prayers prayed by helpless and far away neighbours and friends.

God’s life giving work happens in the small places, because that is all God needs. Because that is where death and darkness are defeated. In mangers, on crosses, in empty tombs, on open doors/ Portes Ouvertes, with prayer vigils reminding us to forgive and to hope. The birth pangs are are not the destruction… The birth pangs are the realization that neither our large stones nor our bullets have real power.

The birth pangs are the sign that God is about transform the world with virgins and shepherds, with fishermen, tax collectors and sinners, with words of faith, water, bread and wine. With a praying Body, a praying community spread all over the world, God is making us the Portes Ouvertes / Open Doors of the Kingdom. God is transforming the world in the Body of the One who was laid in the manger but walked out of the tomb. In the One who is there wherever two or three gather to pray, even when the bombs and bullets are falling.

And so today, as the stones fall, as the news breaks, as the fear of the other threatens… we prepare for the birth pangs. God is about to birth something… someone new into the world. Messiah, the One who will truly save us, the One who is greater than any temple, any bomb, any fear. Messiah is on the way.

Amen.