Welcome, one and all, to The Church of Our Saviour, on this magical and most holy Christmas Eve. Christmas is always such a wonderful time of the year, as friends and family come from near and far to be together for the holiday. And this year is no exception. So, to each of you I say, “Welcome. We are glad you’re here.” Welcome… to those of you who are in town visiting friends or family, and for whom this may be your first, or perhaps occasional, visit to our congregation.
We are so close to Christmas! Holiday shoppers are completing their gift lists while merchants are enticing us with additional discounts. Mall parking lots are filled and delivery trucks are running late into the night. Yet, on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, hours away from celebrating Christmas Eve, we hear a story of preparation and waiting.
I have lived in California now for a little more than 17 years, after having spent all of my life prior to that time either in Montana or Idaho. So, still being a relative newcomer to the Golden State (at least by some people’s standards), I can tell you that I sometimes observe things which may pass by unnoticed by those of you who have been here far longer than I. For instance, for all of you long-time Californians in church this morning, you perhaps have recently noticed the monumental shift that happens about the same time every year in this part of the world.
This may be difficult for some of you to believe, but the 2019 movie award season, which culminates with the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 24 next year at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, has already kicked off. In fact, it started just this past Monday with the Gotham Awards in New York City.
Reading about the Gotham Awards this week (which, honestly, I’d never heard of before), along with the early predictions already coming out about the leading contenders for the Academy Awards statuettes, got me thinking of past Oscar winners for best picture, and I began to realize that a number of them had something in common.
Today is a special Sunday in the Church’s liturgical calendar. You may know that the start of our liturgical year does not coincide with the start of our secular year on January 1st. It begins, instead, with the season of Advent. Next Sunday, December 2nd, we begin another four weeks of Advent. This means that today, November 25th, is the last Sunday of our current church year.
A section of an article from Stars and Stripes written by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a 2014 Washington Post summer intern who served as a rifleman in the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2010 “Even on the short overnight ops, sometimes we talked about things we knew we'd carry home. On a cold night in March 2010, Jeff brought up the kid he'd shot a month earlier, when the battle for the Afghan city of Marjah was hot and there was no shortage of 15-year-olds picking up Kalashnikovs off the ground. Jeff had killed one of them with four shots from a heavy-caliber semi-auto that made a soft thud when the bolt released. The kid had a rifle, and even kids with rifles can kill Marines, Jeff had figured…
Every now and then a story comes along which transcends the written page, or the movie screen, or the stage upon which that story was first told. After first being released as a Disney movie in 1994, and then moving to the Broadway stage three years later (where it has grossed over $8 billion worldwide [yes, that’s billion with a “b”]), The Lion King tells not just a story about life in the African jungle, but a story… about life.
The movie first came out when our daughter was 5 years old. So, in many ways, she and The Lion King sort of grew up together in our house.
The entrance is defined by a simple wrought-iron gate with the words “Wilmington Lutheran Cemetery” inscribed across the top. The gate itself is a bit of an anomaly, since that is all there is… just a gate, but no fence surrounding the old country graveyard carved out of the North Dakota farmland… surrounded, as it were, by the gravel county road on one side and the verdant fields of hard red winter wheat on the other three. There are perhaps two or three hundred grave stones which mark the burial sites in the cemetery, some carefully tended by family members, and some long-since fallen into disrepair as there is no one left to tidy the markers or pull the weeds or lay fresh flowers on Memorial Day.
On Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, with his crucifixion only a week away, the Gospel writer Mark tells us an interesting story. Although not one of the original 12 disciples, Mark was a follower of Jesus, and probably a witness to these events that he describes in such detail. He is known in the earliest tradition of the church as Mark the Evangelist. And he is going to tell this story in such a way as to win you over to the cause of Christ. Let's see if he succeeds!
Today’s reading brings us into a scene with the Sons of Thunder! Arguably the best nick name ever to be given by Jesus. James and John according to scholars, have been traditionally known as “impetuous” and maybe a little hot tempered and this is where the nick name comes from. In the gospel of Luke, a couple of messengers are not received into a Samaritan Town, and when Jesus and the Disciples arrive to hear this, James and John offer to command fire down from heaven.
Francis made friends one day with a cricket. It happened like this. In the woodlands one day, in the burning dog-days of summer, a cricket breaks the empty noonday silence with its song. The brothers, who had risen before dawn to recite the hours, are asleep. So now in the merciless heat, the praises to the Lord are sung by the cricket. Her song is almost too much as it pours out of the fullness of her joy. The parched fields, the thirsty streams, the dusty roads, resound with it.
Both New Testament readings this morning raise the issue of suffering for the Christian. The reading from the Epistle of James leads off with the question, "Are any among you suffering?" Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of Mark that "if your hand causes you to stumble...if your foot causes you to stumble...if your eye causes you to stumble....Cut if off or tear it out." All of these hopefully symbolic acts involve suffering!
These words refer graphically to some of the unholy ways in which Christians suffer, through our own sinfulness. But I want to share a few insights with you this morning about holy suffering, suffering not because of our sins, but suffering because of our righteousness.
I am one of the fortunate ones. All of my life, I have been a part of a Christian church. So from my earliest days I was steeped in the great stories of our faith – so much so that they have become as much a part of my own DNA as they are a part of the church’s DNA. Whether it’s the creation story, or Jonah and the whale, or Joseph and his coat of many colors, or Elijah and the chariot of fire, or Daniel in the lion’s den, or Moses in the bulrushes, those stories have shaped me from my earliest days.
From another world beyond our understanding, came a baby. Given to human parents to be raised as one of us, to inspire us, and to be a shining example. As a child he would discover other worldly insight and his parents would be amazed but not fully understand. As an adult he would venture out and begin to help and save people and be persecuted by a world that was not ready for him. I am talking of course about Superman. Forgive me, but as a child of the 80’s and 90’s my world was shaped by comic books and cartoons about comic books.
Welcome, my friends, to this Our Saviour Sunday festival worship service, as we gather to close out our 150th anniversary year being a vital and integral part of the San Gabriel Valley community. A year ago, you kicked off this sesquicentennial celebration in grand style – both by looking back over the first 150 years of our story, and also by looking forward to all that God might have in store for us.
This is a great time of year to be a sports fan, as a number of different seasons are all converging at one time right now. Professional baseball is heading into the final month of the season, although both the Dodgers’ and the Angels’ chances of making the playoffs seem to fade with each passing game. College football begins its season this coming Thursday night. And the National Football League is deep into its own pre-season with the real games – the ones that count – beginning in just a week and a half. Even the Little League World Series is underway, with its championship game this afternoon in Williamsport, PA.
Many of you know that I took off after church two weeks ago today for a 10 day road trip vacation. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 15 to get from Southern California, one of the most beautiful regions of the United States, to Southwestern Montana, another one of the most beautiful regions of the United States. Unfortunately, to get from here to there, there is also a stretch of road extending from Apple Valley to Las Vegas and southern Nevada, as it crosses the Mojave Desert, which is… well, let’s just say not one of the most beautiful regions in the United States.
He really had no right to come. But Jairus, this leader of the synagogue, this respected Jew in the community, had nowhere else to turn. The doctors had failed to save his little girl. The medicines had failed. Even his daily prayers in the synagogue seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Now, his daughter hovered near death. And so, as a last resort, he swallowed his pride. As a last resort, he turned to the very man the other leaders of the synagogue had condemned. As a last resort, he fell at Jesus’ feet. “My daughter is dying. Please come… and do something.” And Jesus looked into the pleading eyes of this man he had never met before, and without a moment’s hesitation they were off.